“The winter solstice has always been special to me as a barren darkness that gives birth to a verdant future beyond imagination…”
December evokes visions of decorated trees, elaborate wreaths, and family gatherings. Many of the traditions that we know and love at this time of year stem from one of the oldest known traditions — Winter Solstice. Winter Solstice holds special significance for many reasons, both scientific and cultural. During a year that has been full of hardships and heartache for many people, the ritual and comfort of winter solstice becomes especially important.
Winter Solstice has been celebrated by cultures across the globe for thousands of years. It is the longest night and shortest day of the year, a time when the North Pole is angled just over twenty-three degrees from the sun. This particular moment occurs on December 21st this year, and signifies the beginning of the winter season. History demonstrates that people have been celebrating Winter Solstice for thousands of years. Stonehenge, steeped in mystery, was begun around 3100 BC, and aligns perfectly with the sunset of the Winter Solstice. Winter often brought famine and starvation in parts of Europe as it became hard to feed and care for livestock, but the celebration of Winter Solstice was a time of plenty. The solstice was marked by celebration and feasting, with festivals like Scandinavia’s Yule, which lasted for twelve days.
Customs that many believe have their origins in Christianity are actually rooted in the traditions of winter solstice. The practice of setting up Christmas trees and hanging wreaths stemmed from people adorning their homes with boughs of evergreen to bring life in during the winter darkness. Gift-giving during this time of year can be traced back to Roman times, when Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a feast linked to winter sowing and agricultural bounties in the coming year. Family gatherings are linked to Winter Solstice around the globe, from the Chinese solstice celebration called Dongzhi to the Iranian Yalda Night. While this time of year has become synonymous with the Christian holiday of Christmas, it is celebrated by many diverse cultures.
This year, this deeply challenging year, take comfort in the rituals and traditions that acknowledge our Mother Earth’s rhythms. No matter what party is in power, or how bleak the daily news may seem, we will still have our longest night to welcome in. Winter Solstice is a time to reflect on the old (darkness), welcome in the new (light), and make a fresh start. No matter what your beliefs, make a plan to celebrate winter solstice on December 21st.
Winter Solstice will occur on December 21, 2017. There are many ways to mark the day, or you can establish your own rituals to take advantage of the special nature of this solar event. Many elect to spend the day alone, perhaps walking in nature, or spending the day in restful and regenerative silence as they draw in the introspective quality that the year’s shortest day offers. But you can also hold a celebratory candlelight dinner with family and friends, acknowledging the year’s longest night while celebrating the return of the light. Make birdfeeders and treats for the animals and birds to nourish them as they face the remaining winter. Place fresh greens around your home, whether you choose to put up a large tree or just a few evergreen boughs, or burn fir incense sticks. Take part in a yule log tradition, which dates back to Scandinavian times. ‘Cocoon,’ wrapped in a favorite blanket and fragrant cup of tea, as you enjoy the quiet and nurturing quality that Winter Solstice offers. On Solstice night, take time to make your gratitude list for those people and things that have already gifted your life, but also take the opportunity to journal what you want the return of light to bring to you and your world. Pause and reflect on what lightness can come from the darkest night, and resolve to bring something fresh.
In marking the occasion of Winter Solstice, we allow ourselves to live in greater harmony and in natural rhythm with the world around us, and also inside us.
The Winter Solstice is the time of ending and beginning, a powerful time — a time to contemplate your immortality. A time to forgive, to be forgiven, and to make a fresh start. A time to awaken.