The month of December is generally monopolized by all Christmas all the time, whether we’re talking about the religious part of it or the cultural part of it: Santa, shopping, carriage rides, wreath making, caroling, etc. That may be your jam. You may be all in for all the holiday hullaboo. But, it’s also important to realize that not everyone celebrates Christmas, and also that this time of year can be a difficult one for people for a variety of reasons. It can also be tempting to just avoid it all and stay home under a blanket and binge stuff on Disney+. A bit of seasonal spin is going to creep into my recommendations; it’s kinda hard to avoid. But hopefully you’ll find something that’s worth venturing out into the world for.

Celebrate the solstice

For thousands of years people in the Northern Hemisphere have been recognizing the return of the light after the days grew shorter and shorter. It’s rooted in the traditions of a number of cultures and societies, and it remains a religious celebration for some. It can also be an opportunity to take a pause, give a nod to the cycles of the earth, and maybe re-center a bit. Here are a few ways to observe:

Feast of Juul, Allerton Park and Retreat Center
December 21st, 5 to 8 p.m.

Gather around a bonfire for the burning of the Juul (Yule) log, a Scandanavian tradition. It’s free to attend, but have some money handy for the cash bar, Dragon Fire Pizza, and a baked potato bar at The Greenhouse Cafe. Not exactly sure that those last things are Scandavian tradition, but that’s okay. While you’re out there, stroll through the Kirby Wellness Walk

Photo from Facebook event page

Welcome Winter: Kundalini Yoga with Gong and Mantra Practice, Soul Care
December 21st, 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Maybe you need to pull yourself out of the busy-ness and turn inward a bit; have a reset. Soul Care is offering this opportunity to “experience the power of the gong + mantra to awaken your inner voice and nourish your soul.” I’m going to admit, I don’t know exactly what all of that means, but it sounds rather delightful and refreshing. Cost is $18, and you can make your reservation here. Be sure to check the event page for suggestions on what to wear and what to expect. You can read more about Soul Care here.   

Image from Facebook event page

Season of Light, Staerkel Planetarium
December 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, 8 to 9 p.m.

Relax under the dome and learn about several of the traditions surrounding this time of year, including Christian, Jewish, Celtic, Nordic, Roman, Irish, Mexican and Hopi. Tickets are just $5-6. This is one you could bring the kids to, or maybe you just want to sit in the dark by yourself for an hour and that’s okay too.

Have a shopping experience

Last week, we gave you some shopping suggestions to help you in your gift buying this year, encouraging you to support local art and local businesses in general. If you want to put a cultural spin on your shopping experience, here are a couple of ideas:

Photo from Japan House Facebook page

Mottainai Annual Bazaar, Japan House
December 14th, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
December 15th, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This is one of my favorite Japan House events of the year. It’s a bit like a garage sale, but with way cooler stuff. “Mottainai” is an exclamation that conveys regret about waste; highly appropriate for this time of year in all of our consumerist frenzy. With the concepts of reduce, reuse, recycle, and respect, the annual bazaar brings together a bevy of items from around the world, as well as handmade crafts. You can find things that are practical, decorative, and unique, all while supporting the Japan House Internship Program.

Photo from Riggs Beer Company Facebook page

German Market, Riggs Beer Company
Thursdays and Fridays, 4 to 8 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays, 2 to 7 p.m.
Through December 22nd

I’ve never been fortunate enough to visit a Christkindl market in Germany, but I’ve made several visits to the one in Chicago. You go get your hot spiced wine in the commemorative mug, have a bratwurst with some mustard and sauerkraut, and shop a bunch of cute wooden huts with items from various local and international sources. It’s a fun, festive activity. Riggs is doing their own mini version of this throughout the month of December with a lot of these elements included, and I’m kind of excited to check it out. They even built some huts specifically for the event. Purchase some gifts from local sellers while you enjoy spiced wine, hot chocolate, beer, and all sorts of German foods. Dress warm because you’ll be outside! 

Image from Visual AIDS website

Observe A Day With(out) Art, Krannert Art Museum

December 2-23
M-F 9 a.m to 5 p.m.
Sa 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

From now until December 23rdth, Krannert Art Museum is hosting the 30th Annual Day Without Art exhibit Still Beginning, a series of seven videos curated by Visual AIDS, an organization that utilizes art to create discussion around HIV and AIDS. The topics are wide ranging, and you can read descriptions of each here. They will be shown continuously in the Collection Study Area on the lower level of the museum. You can also see them today only at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at Stage 5 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Day With(out) Art is observed in conjuction with World AIDS Day, December 1st. Though a diagnosis of HIV today is no longer an automatic death sentence here in the United States, the impact the disease has had on an entire generation of people, and the impact it continues to have around the world is ever present and worth recognizing. Last week we took a look at what happened when the AIDS crisis came to Champaign-Urbana, and the campaign to get to zero new cases in Illinois. You can read that here

Top photo from Allerton Park and Retreat Center Facebook page