Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year - or maybe more accurately, the night between Dec. 21 and 22 is the longest one of the year; winter officially starts on Dec. 22, as the nights start getting shorter. Ancient religions, especially from the northern latitudes where the changes in day length are most notable, often had explanations of why the sun dropped so low in the sky and what had to be done to make the sun come back so that summer would return; these rituals are the source of many of the religious winter festivals, with the emphasis on lights and candles and fire.
Inspired by Seasons of Light at the Museum of the Rockies planetarium, we have come up with our own ritual to scare the sun back up into the sky. Every July, we get an extra set of mortars and fountains, which we stash until December 21 comes along and it is dark and cold. We have my sister and her family over, and we set off fireworks in the snow. Fireworks in the winter is a completely different experience than July fireworks, as the lights reflect off the snow. Some years, it is so cold that we use a propane torch to light the fuses and the little ones watch from inside; other years, we can sit comfortably outside and light them without gloves. And it works - every year since we started, the sun has promptly started rising in the sky the next day, making the days longer and, eventually, warmer.
For more information on winter solstice rituals, see