It’s no secret that Alaska’s odd relationship with day and night is a major draw for visitors, and why not? The allure of a “midnight sun” shining at all hours, or hardly shining at all before dipping beneath a frozen horizon is positively intoxicating. Saturday is winter solstice in Alaska, and it’s time to wake up the kids.
Alaska makes a big deal out of the two equinoxal events, summer and winter solstice, marked on calendars as June 21 and December 21, respectively. We dance, we sing, we frolic, run, ski, skate, light up the night – anything at all to celebrate both longest and shortest nights of the year with wild abandon – because we can. Alaskans, even the youngest among us, feel the siren song of summer stretching us ever closer to the end of a season, and know the sharp bite of winter that means an ironic shift toward longer days, one second at a time.
While the summer event draws a lion’s share of tourists eager to capture photos of giant vegetables and lingering rays of light, winter solstice is a perennial favorite among my cadre of Alaskan families. Moonlight ski trips, mulled cider, frosty eyelashes and tingling toes while keeping a sharp eye out for our “other light”, the aurora borealis – that’s winter in Alaska, and that’s the Alaska we want to show our kids. Below are a few options for celebrating winter solstice, 49th state-style.
1. Cuddy Family Midtown Park, Anchorage. FRIDAY, 12/20. Thanks to the local parks and rec department and our friends at the Anchorage Park Foundation, Cuddy park will be filled with light, featuring sleigh rides, a bonfire, skating rinks, an an abundance of holiday cheer. FREE. 6-8 p.m.
2. Creamer’s Field Solstice Walk, Fairbanks. SATURDAY, 12/21.With the sun headed to bed very early in the Interior regions of Alaska, Creamer’s Field is hosting their annual jaunt around the beautiful refuge beginning at 1 p.m. Dress for extremely cold temperatures, and bring a light by which to shine. FREE.
3. Eagle River Nature Center Ice Candle class, then Lantern Walk event. SATURDAY, 12/21. Junior Naturalists can make beautiful ice candles at 2 p.m. in preparation for the 6 p.m. Lantern Walk, an annual hike around the Rodak Nature Trail on the beautiful ERNC property. It’s absolutely one of the most beautiful evenings of the year, and the ethereal light from snowy pathways brings the holidays home for us. FREE, $5/parking for non-members; ice candle class requires registration for kids K-6, call 907-694-2108.
4. Downtown Fairbanks Celebration of Lights, Fairbanks. SATURDAY, 12/21.Swing into downtown Fairbanks for some holiday jazz at 6:30 p.m., then stick around for the 8 p.m. fireworks extravaganza. FREE.
5. Independent exploration. Want to spend the evening away from crowds? Kids will love an Alaska evening of strolling a local park, snowshoeing or skiing, utilizing one of Anchorage’s 200 miles of skiable trail systems. Visit the Anchorage Park Foundation for a map. Wish to simply gaze upon the stars and city lights? Take a drive; Anchorage offers Point Woronzof and Earthquake Park to the west, Flattop/Glen Alps parking lots to the east. Fairbanks residents can drive up to the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus and gaze over the Tanana Valley, and maybe even see the aurora borealis.
What will you do? Join Alaska families and celebrate the solstice, and embrace those extra minutes of daylight.
For more information, read a great piece by the Alaska Public Lands Information Centers all about our midnight sun, solstice, and a great photo montage of winter sun progression, aurora borealis, and Alaska’s winter landscapes.