How to make Ice Lanterns – the best winter solstice decorations

Ice lanterns are a beautiful and easy winter celebration activity. Use them to decorate your porch as guest visit on Christmas eve or let them light the table for your Winter Solstice feast.

So, get out your tubs, round up some of nature’s treasures, and take your littles outside to help you put together some candle ice lanterns.

berries and pine leaves frozen into an ice lantern mold

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What are ice lanterns, or ice luminaries and what are they for?

Very simply, ice lanterns are made by using molds to freeze ice into shapes that will hold candles. 

And you can make these any time of the year if you have a large enough freezer, but most people will make these in the winter months when they can be left outside to freeze and the warmer house temperatures won’t melt them too quickly.

A festive candle ice lantern on a candle-lit winter solstice table
Our table top ice lantern for last Winter Solstice

Ice lanterns make beautiful table centerpieces for the holidays or for celebrating the winter solstice.  You can put them outside on your porch to welcome guests or use them with frozen sun catchers to decorate a wintery nighttime festival or backyard party.

I think you could even use them to keep the shrimp cold at your new year’s bash if you planned it right!

How to make ice lanterns or ice luminaries

  1. Create or purchase and ice mold. We make ours from nestled containers.
  2. If making your mold, add weight to keep the inner container in place, see video below.
  3. Add some treasures to freeze in the ice. We love adding cranberries, cedar and pine twigs, and pinecones.
  4. Pour in your water and rearrange the treasures as you like.
  5. Freeze.  If it’s winter, hopefully it’s cold enough outside and you can freeze them outdoors.  If not, make some room in your freezer.
  6. When frozen, carefully remove the ice ring from the mold.
  7. Add a candle or an electric tea light and voila!

Below is a video of my little helping me make our own Festive Ice Lanterns.

1. Gather Ice Lantern Supplies

You can see that we gathered various natural items from around the yard. I also love the pop or red from cranberries. Here we are using larger squarish containers and smaller round ones for the candle hole.

2. Assemble and add water

It can be helpful to have a few hands to hold the containers steady when adding water. We like to rearrange the twigs and leaves after water has been added and tuck them all down into the water.

3. Leave outside to let them freeze

You will notice in this photo that we filled the inner container with some water as well as the weight to hold it down instead of rocks.

Tip: When leaving outside to freeze, protect them from falling snow or they may freeze with and uneven snow/icy crust around the rim. This isn’t a big deal, but I prefer the look of the clean frozen ice.

How long do ice lanterns last?

Our ice lanterns (with one candle burning in them) will generally last the evening… about 6 hours.

Using an electric candle with less heat may keep your lantern from melting as fast. But, the indoor temperature will melt them regardless.

If you keep your lanterns outside and the temperature remains below freezing, they will last days… until the sun or warmer temperatures melt them.

How do you make 5 gallon bucket ice luminaries?

Supplies for bucket ice lanterns:

  • A stick wider than the bucket (hocket stick, broom handle, baseball bat)
  • Handled smaller pail; an old ice cream tub or kid’s sand pail with a handle will work well. You can also tie a handle onto a larger yogurt or cut open milk carton.
  • Rock or brick
  • Optional: items to freeze into your luminary
  1. Gather all your nature treasures that you’ll want to freeze into the lantern: boughs, berries, cut citrus rounds, pinecones, etc.
  2. Suspend the smaller pail over the center of the 5 gallon bucket by hooking the smaller pail’s handle over the stick you’ve laid across the top of the larger bucket. This ensures you’ll have a cavity in your frozen luminary for the candle.
  3. Add rocks or a brick to the smaller suspended pail to weight it down.
  4. Now, fill the outer bucket with water and the items you want frozen into the finished ice lantern.
  5. Fill your 5 gallon pail right up to the rim of the smaller suspended pail.
  6. Leave this outside to freeze.
  7. How long will it take for your bucket ice lantern to freeze? Well, that depends on your outdoor temperatures!
  8. Once the pail is frozen solid you may need to bring it into the house or a warmer location to warm it enough to take out the smaller suspended pail.
  9. Bring the pail back outside and carefully tip the bucket upside down. This might be hard and may require 2 people.
  10. Remove the 5 gallon pail and flip your ice luminary back right-side up.
  11. Add your candle and enjoy!

These make beautiful pieces to light your walk or porch for a holiday gathering.

A few different ice lantern variations:

The winter solstice centerpiece

How to make a Winter Solstice ice lamp
The Gingerbread House’s Winter Solstice Ice Lamp

Notice how the candle holder portion of this lantern is shallow?  This likely helps in keeping the entire lantern frozen longer when using it indoors as a centerpiece.  You can see exactly how this one was made by visiting the Gingerbread House’s Winter Solstice Lamp tutorial.

Frozen tea light holders

Easy to make Ice Lanterns - create a candle holder out of ice for a sparkling winter ice candle display. Perfect for a front porch, lining a driveway or a winter wedding.
Small Ice Lantern Candle Holders by Upstate Ramblings

Aren’t these lovely?  Wouldn’t these be a welcoming way to greet your holiday guests as they walk up to your door?  If you’re worried about fire outdoors you can always use little battery powered tea lights.  Read how these frozen candle holders were made on Upstate Rambling’s page.

Balloon Ice Globes

This type of ice lantern is made by putting water into a balloon and freezing the balloon.  Leave it to freeze overnight and only the outside of the sphere will freeze, leaving a cavity in the middle for your lights.  These are really cool!

The video above is by IceGlobes.  Go check out their Youtube videos to see other cool frozen globe ideas.

As an aside, I wonder how cold it would have to be for the entire balloon to freeze overnight?  That could be a fun science experiment with the kids…

a dinner table covered in candles, an ice lantern, plates, and food
The photo is a bit blurry because it was taken in the dark, only the candles lighting the room!

Will you be taking advantage of the freezing temperatures and making some ice lanterns or ice luminaries with your family?

An ice lantern filled with pine boughs, berries, and pinecones

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