This web page is a resource to help centers, groups and members plan Children's Day activities for their families and local communities. A special booklet of Children's Day songs and stories is available at Shambhala Media. Click here to see more about Children's Day Songs & Stories
Iliana, A Winter Solstice Tale written by sangha member Walter Fordham is a beautifully illustrated Children's Day story. Visit the Iliana website to read more
Over the years, the Shambhala community has adopted a tradition of celebrating the changes of season. These special days of celebration are called nyida days - from nyima ("sun") and dawa ("moon"). Nyida days occur on or near the days of the spring and autumn equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices.
Children's Day falls on December 21st, the time of the winter solstice (in the northern hemisphere.) While all four nyida days are regarded as family-oriented occasions, Children's Day provides a special opportunity to express appreciation for and with our children. Because the solstice marks the time of year when the night is longest and daylight has waned, light is a special characteristic of this holiday.
Celebration of the winter solstice has its roots in many different cultures. The Shambhala Community has drawn on traditional images associated with this time of year to create a distinctive and rich festival of our own.
At the heart of the Children's Day festivities is the shrine, the representation of the dignity of the family, the joy and creativity of the youthful heart, and the celebration of the senses. Dharma centers and individual families are encouraged to create a Children's Day shrine. The shrine can become the main focal point for indoor play for days or weeks. Decorating the shrine is a family project, with special contributions from the children. This is their time to join heaven and earth. Here are a few suggestions for creating a shrine:
A Children's Day shrine
- Shrine can be designed with tiers representing the principles of heaven, earth, and man. The shrine is often covered with red, gold, or white satin. A household Shambhala shrine could be refashioned, or a table placed beneath the fireplace mantle.
- The King and Queen are the central focus of the shrine, representing the heaven principle. They are placed at the highest level, perhaps on wooden platforms. They may be special china dolls or statuary, or even standing paper dolls.
- Arrange the Shambhala offerings just in front of the King and Queen. Place from left to right: a small mirror (sight), a conch or musical instrument (sound), saffron water (smell), fruit or sweets (taste), and a cloth ribbon tied on a stick (touch).
- The children can place animal figurines on the shrine representative of the earth principle. These could be stuffed animals or handmade models of clay or papier maché. Any small precious household objects, such as a yumi, would also be appropriate. If your shrine has three tiers, these would go on the middle level.
- Place flowers and candles on the shrine.
- Children may place other offerings of their choice: handmade decorations, potted plants, home made cookies, bowls of candy, and special "treasures" such a dolls and toys.
- Around the shrine could be placed lights, streamers, fans, flags, or paper ring chains in Shambhala colours. A large mirror could be placed behind the shrine, surrounded by green boughs and twinkling lights.
- On the eve of Children's Day, children can place sake or tea offerings and food, usually sweets, on the shrine for the King and Queen.
- After the children have gone to bed, the King and Queen set out gifts for the children. Note: Giving gifts is not required; some feel this is too materialistic.
Preparations and Activities
- Invitations: Centers and groups are encouraged to invite members and friends of your local community to participate in the numerous preparatory activities and in the formal celebration.
- Craft Workshop: In many centers a children's workshop is organized approximately one week before Children's Day, in which materials and instructions are provided for children to create decorations for their home shrines. Activities include king and queen doll-making, candle and cookie decoration, designing banners, origami, sculpting animal figurines, ikebana, and painting and drawing. These crafts can be displayed at your center.
- Community Choir: Members of all ages-children and adults-can gather to sing holiday songs together.
Children's Day Community Gathering
Flowers, music, and candy set the tone for a festive gathering of the Shambhala community. An emphasis on inviting all the sangha is important. It should probably not last more than an hour. Here are some suggestions for this event:
- Lhasang Ceremony: Instructions for this ceremony can be found in the Vajradhatu Practice Manual.
- Candlelight Ceremony: This ritual can happen in a variety of ways. Descriptions for this can be found in the Children's Manual.
- Children's Blessing The Vidyadhara created a special Children's blessing for this occasion. The procedures for this can be found in the Vajradhatu Practice Manual. A qualified teacher is required to perform this particular ceremony. As an alternative, a distinguished leader of your community can perform a simplified blessing. Children are led past a shrine or chair on top of which a photograph of the Sakyong or Vidyadhara is placed. They touch their heads to the picture and proceed past the most distinguished lady of your sangha who offers them candy.
- Storytelling: Someone could tell a short (five-minute) story from the heart. The story does not necessarily have to be read.
- Presentation of gifts: Children pass gifts that will be donated through a lhasang and present them at the shrine. At smaller centers, gifts in the form of small toys can be saved and reused from year to year. At larger centers, parents should decide what kind of gift is appropriate.
- Gift suggestions: Children could be involved in the selection of a gift for an underprivileged child in your area. Children could offer used clothing to an agency of your choice, or food to a Food Bank. Children could offer money, which would be given to a charitable organization.
- Entertainment: Games such as "Pin the Tail on the Dragon" or "Musical Gomdens," a skating or swimming party.
- Performance: Over the years centers have organized talent shows, poetry readings, musical choirs, puppet shows and theatrical productions with some Shambhalian theme.
- Reception: for all children and parents. This could be held at your center or at someone's home. Food could be contributed by families and arranged in a festive manner.
In some Shambhala communities Children's Day is celebrated over two days. One day focuses on the Children's Day ceremonies, and a second day-known as Family Day is spent at home, with family members or with deleks.
On the morning of Family Day, children open gifts left in front of the Children's shrine. The family enjoys this day together. In larger sanghas, the deleks could organize parties. They might enjoy sharing Shambhala songs and special stories around the shrine. There can be a feast at home or by delek, to which friends are generously invited. This could be a day for all sangha members, not just those with children.
Winter Solstice: The Unconquered Sun
(The Unconquered Sun first appeared as an article by Janet Shotwell in the Karma Dzong Banner)
At the Winter Solstice, we celebrate Children's Day to honour our children and to bring warmth, light and cheerfulness into the dark time of the year. Holidays such as this have their origin as "holy days". They are the way human beings mark the sacred times in the yearly cycle of life.
In the northern latitudes, midwinter's day has been an important time for celebration throughout the ages. On this shortest day of the year, the sun is at its lowest and weakest, a pivot point from which the light will grow stronger and brighter. This is the turning point of the year. The Romans called it Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.
The Roman midwinter holiday, Saturnalia, was both a gigantic fair and a festival of the home. Riotous merry-making took place, and the halls of houses were decked with boughs of laurel and evergreen trees. Lamps were kept burning to ward off the spirits of darkness. Schools were closed, the army rested, and no criminals were executed. Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewelry, and incense. Temples were decorated with evergreens symbolizing life's continuity, and processions of people with masked or blackened faces and fantastic hats danced through the streets.
The custom of mummers visiting their neighbors in costume, which is still alive in Newfoundland, is descended from these masked processions.
Roman masters feasted with slaves, who were given the freedom to do and say what they liked (the medieval custom of all the inhabitants of the manor, including servants and lords alike, sitting down together for a great Christmas feast, came from this tradition). A Mock King was appointed to take charge of the revels (the Lord of Misrule of medieval Christmas festivities had his origin here).
In pagan Scandinavia the winter festival was the yule (or juul). Great yule logs were burned, and people drank mead around the bonfires listening to minstrel-poets singing ancient legends. It was believed that the yule log had the magical effect of helping the sun to shine more brightly.
Mistletoe, which was sacred because it mysteriously grew on the most sacred tree, the oak, was ceremoniously cut and a spray given to each family, to be hung in the doorways as good luck. The Celtic Druids also regarded mistletoe as sacred. Druid priests cut it from the tree on which it grew with a golden sickle and handed it to the people, calling it All-Heal. To hang it over a doorway or in a room was to offer goodwill to visitors. Kissing under the mistletoe was a pledge of friendship. Mistletoe is still forbidden in most Christian churches because of its Pagan associations, but it has continued to have a special place in home celebrations.
In the third century various dates, from December to April, were celebrated by Christians as Christmas. January 6 was the most favored day because it was thought to be Jesus' baptismal day (in the Greek Orthodox Church this continues to be the day to celebrate Christmas). Around 350, December 25 was adopted in Rome and gradually almost the entire Christian Church agreed to that date, which coincided with Winter Solstice, the Yule and the Saturnalia. The merry side of Saturnalia was adopted to the observance of Christmas. By 1100 Christmas was the peak celebration of the year for all of Europe. During the 16th century, under the influence of the Reformation, many of the old customs were suppressed and the Church forbade processions, colourful ceremonies, and plays.
In 1647 in England, Parliament passed a law abolishing Christmas altogether. When Charles II came to the throne, many of the customs were revived, but the feasting and merrymaking were now more worldly than religious.
Here in Nova Scotia outdoor coloured lights play an important part in the local celebration of the mid-winter season. With the day turning to darkness so early in the North, it is cheering to look out into the cold and dark at lights sparkling and glittering in the crisp air.
Our celebration of Children's Day is inspired not only by the pagan celebrations of mid-winter but arises also out of the Japanese holidays of Boy's Day and Doll's Day, which are two separate days in the spring, when boys and girls of a certain age are presented to the temple and honored with special gifts. The Shambhala Children's Shrine is modeled after the display of ancestral dolls traditional in homes on Doll's Day.
Our sangha is our village, our clan, our family. Our children belong to all of us, and are bright
reminders of the future of Buddhism. We celebrate them and the Great Eastern Sun together at the darkest
time of the year, with open-hearth parties and cheerful festivities.