I love Winter Solstice and I can feel the energy of it for a few weeks before it even arrives. It’s dark far earlier, much colder outside and there is a desire to cocoon, wear warmer clothes and eat soup (at least for me). There is a sensation of reflection, going inwards and questioning that arrives naturally from this energy. To me this is a time where I notice those “meh” moments more and really examine my life and ask the question “Am I showing up and embodying what I am called to do?” That’s why, to me, I feel it vital to take some time out to honour this energy and work with it which in turn allows me to feel aligned. In fact I feel more balanced, connected and inspired after I have taken some time.
So what is Winter Solstice and why celebrate it? Why take the time to honour it? Good questions, so let’s explore from whence it came and what it means.
Winter Solstice takes place on the day where the night is the longest and the hours of sun or daylight are the shortest. In fact “Solstice” comes from two Latin words: sol meaning “sun” and sistere meaning “to stand still” because it appeared as though the sun and moon had stopped moving across the sky. This longest night of the year, followed by a renewal of the sun, demonstrates the cyclical order of the cosmos. In this way, celebrating the solstice can be a beautiful remembrance that our lives are part of a larger order, always changing, always renewing. It’s a gorgeous invitation to not be afraid of the dark or the shadow, as it is in that place is where we shift, grow and recharge.
Winter Solstice has been celebrated in various forms and for thousands of years across a myriad of cultures.
There was Saturnalia in Ancient Rome which began on December 17 and lasted for 7 days. These celebrations were held from as far back as around 217 BC to honour Saturn, the father of the gods.
Feast of Juul – This is where we get the term Yule from at this time of year, was a pre-Christian festival observed in Scandinavia at the time of the December solstice. People would light fires to symbolize the heat and light of the returning sun and a Juul (or Yule) log was brought in and dropped in the hearth as as a tribute to the Norse god Thor. This log was burned until nothing but ash remained. The ashes were then collected and either strewn on the fields as fertiliser every night until Twelfth Night or kept as a charm.
Yalda – or Shab-e-Chelleh (night of fourty) is an Iranian festival celebrated on the “longest and darkest night of the year” – Solstice. Every year, on December 21st, Iranians celebrate the arrival of winter, the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness on Yalda Night.
Santo Tomas – a celebration in Guatemala where the Mayan Indians indulged in the ritual known as the Palo Volador, or “flying pole dance.” Three men climb on top of a 50 foot pole as one of them beats a drum and plays a flute. The other two men wind a rope attached to the pole around one foot and jump. If they land on their feet, it is believe that the sun god will be pleased and that the days will start getting longer.
If I were to try and explain this celebration in a nutshell it would be a time for introspection, embracing of the shadow, a willingness to walk into the dark, to then celebrate the returning of the light within and without. This is a celebration of honouring the dark before calling into the light and then most certainly celebrating the return of the sun and the light.
So let’s talk rituals – some people get really weirded out when the word “ritual” is mentioned. So let’s put some myths aside right now – there is no right way or wrong way, you don’t have to have all the ingredients for a certain ritual, it doesn’t need to be complex and over the top (but if that’s your style, go for it). I personally like simple rituals that I can do with my kids, on my own, with friends I trust and I don’t ever want them to feel like I am adding to my “to do” list, especially in this frenzied time.
To me ritual is intentional and all about creating space for you to tap into the seasons, the reasons and yourself. By performing simple rituals with personal meaning to celebrate the solstice, these rituals will serve as touchstones to help you cultivate an attitude of receptiveness and appreciation that will carry you through the holiday season with more ease. A good starting point might be to make a promise this winter to spend more time listening, watching, and honoring the slower, quieter rhythm of the season.
Always, always start with setting the space. Whether it is lighting a candle, hanging a wreath of evergreens or just sitting in silence for a while. Honour yourself, your connection to Gaia and Spirit, the celebration and get clear on your intention. Let’s explore some rituals to help you tap into this gorgeous energy, gain more peace and clarity and release whatever is not serving you.
Be Still, Be Quiet – Tools – You, a candle.
The minute I wrote that title I thought of the song based on “Christina Rossetti’s” poem – In the Bleak Midwinter.
If you don’t know this poem the first stanza is “In the bleak mid-winter, Frosty wind made moan; Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow, In the bleak mid-winter long ago.”
Yet for some reason this poem captures the energy of this celebration. It is a time to stop, stand still.
So if you are willing (appreciating we are all very busy – as we tell ourselves), take some time to just be quiet. Turn off all the electronica, the TV, the cell phone, your laptop or whatever it is. Sit in the dark and just breathe and as you breathe imagine a glorious sunlight coming into your heart space and as you breathe out release the strings of darkness that we all have. Keep breathing in this way and with those intentions and when you’re ready gently bounce up. Turn on the lights, light a candle and eat something sunny. An egg perhaps?
Release, Cleanse and Create!- Tools – Frankincense, Myrrh, Cedar, Juniper Berries or Sage, a candle, journal for writing in. Peace and quiet for 20 minutes.
Create a space. Just sit, light a candle and give out a blessing. Anne Hayman has a lovely one that I work with – “ Bless me on this holy day, as I honor the traditions of my ancient sisters. I hold space for myself + for all living creatures on this planet. I stand strong in this long night of darkness. I trust that the light returns. I see my own energy reflected in nature as I go within, only to emerge full of light. May the blessings be… And so it is!”
Then take a bit of time to write out what you want to release, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Where are you holding it in your body and how you will feel when it is released? When you’re finished writing, rip the paper up and place it to the side.
Then using Frankincense, Myrrh and Cedar (if you are using the real thing then you will need a charcoal disc to burn them on). If you don’t have these, no panic – use Sage smudge or whatever you have. Light this sacred incense up let it waft through the air and take a moment to think about all you have released. Then with the candle you lit at the beginning, over a safe container, light up the pieces of paper you ripped up.
As you watch the flames devour your darkness and releasing see it all absorbed back into the sky, the Universe, healthy, cleaned and transferred. .
Sit for a moment with the waft of incense around you and your candle burning and say to yourself – “Light above me, light around me, light within me, light below me. My light is my strength and my protection.” You have just welcomed the light back.
So now you have created a glorious, sacred space within yourself with this ritual. What do you want to fill it with?
Imagine yourself as fully connected to the Divine and the Earth, you are a conduit in the middle. With this glorious energy pulsing through you – what do you want to create? What makes you feel energised? What makes you feel vibrant and alive? How do you want to share your light with others? Write it all down. If you use cards and feel fully connected to them, do a yearly spread. If you want some help, let me know.
When you are done, place both hands on your heart and breathe long and deep. You have just done something that is powerful and changes energy in a deep, subtle way. Breathe in, breathe out and know, trust you are a delicious being of light and love. So it is, and so it will be.
Get outdoors! Tools – You and the outdoors.
Is there a trail you can walk or a field or bank of snow you can lie down in?
A perch that provides the perfect view? Perhaps it is the top of your apartment building or a rocky outcrop. Wherever it is, even it is in your yard, find a quiet place to just acknowledge and BE. Get outside, whether it is at night or to watch the glorious sunrise. Get outdoors.
Create a Giving Tree – Tools – Food in the fridge, popcorn strings, a tree, candles.
This is deliciously easy and can be done on your own, with your partner or with your kids. Create a giving tree (this is where the idea of Xmas trees came from). Make some strings of popcorn and berries, apple slices or whatever you would like to do. I have done nuts on strings, apple slices covered in peanut butter embedded with seeds, popcorn and cranberry strings.
Take all your glorious offerings to the tree you picked, whether inside or outside. In the dark hang your strings on the tree and tell the tree how you welcome the light back so that there is more than enough abundance for everyone and everybeing. Stand back in the dark and revel. Then light your candles up and just take some time and appreciate where you are, your glorious tree, the offerings you made and the light coming back. If you want to burst into song with something like “Here Comes the Sun” by Simon and Garfunkel, then you so need to send me a video!
Invite People for Dinner! – Tools: You, friends or family, candles, food and a willingness.
This is a celebration time and what better way to celebrate than share food with others.
Sharing food is an important part of any celebration, it is particularly meaningful during Solstice as it represents faith in the return of the sun and the harvest. So have a friend or more than one over for dinner! Light some candles, share your goals, intentions and what you want to “harvest” in the next 6 months.
Turn off the Lights! – Tools: You, lights and thermostats?
This is super easy, turn off all the lights in your home, turn off your furnace, radiators, , baseboard heaters or whatever form of heat you have. Open the doors and windows wide and allow the cold air to flood in and breeze through (I highly recommend you bundle up).
In that soft darkness sit and BE in silence for a good 5 minutes or more. With the combination of dark, cold and silence it cultivates a stillness in yourself. You may feel a tad wiggly or odd but just keep breathing.
I used to do this with the kids when they were younger (and this is also my youngest monster’s birthday) it was quite profound to see what came up and out. When you are done with the dark (and don’t run from it), go around and gently close the doors and windows, put on your heating supply and as you do send a little blessing out “As the darkness begins to retreat and light begins its return once again – I am grateful”.
Then light candles galore (this welcomes back the sun), sing songs, share food and stories and what came up. And most importantly relax, enjoy and celebrate! If you are doing this on your own, after you have lit your candles, put on music that makes you feel awesome. Move your body and eat something delicious that is not your norm and give huge thanks.
Walk into the Dark – Tools – evergreen boughs, candles, apples and again – a willingness.
I have done this one for quite a few years with my kids and friends and it is stupendous and delicious. The Spiral Walk.
A few days prior to Solstice we go gather a truck filled with cedar boughs (keep in mind I do live on the side of a mountain). Then on the white snow we create a spiral that you could walk like a labyrinth. In the centre of the spiral is a tree stump covered with nature’s offerings – berries, shells, pinecones and crystals and a large candle.
The evening of Solstice we all gather together and each has an unlit candle in an apple and the only lit candle is the one in the centre of the spiral. One at a time gently holding the unlit candle someone walks the spiral into the darkness, towards the light they whisper what they want to release. When they hit the centre they light their own candle and as they walk slowly back out of the spiral they say what their creation, hearts desire, manifestation are going to be.
When they see a lovely spot that resonates for them they put their apple candle on the spiral and so it goes. By the time this ritual is done the spiral is lit up all over the place and then we would go inside, turn on all the lights and eat a meal and celebrate together. Have to say, every time we have done this as a family the spiral has been lit up all night and the centre candle has never gone out, no matter the snow or the winds.
Gift and Share – Tools: You, your stuff, large bags.
You’ve heard the saying “What is one man’s trash is another man’s treasure?” What better way to release and invite in the abundance that comes with the sun than releasing things you don’t need. Now I’m not talking about those tatty, ripped stained jeans – but what about that sweater you haven’t worn in years, those jeans that are lovely but you don’t like? Things like that. What about the food in your pantry that was given to you or brought to a gathering that you are never going to eat as it isn’t your thing? (For me I think of nuts as I don’t eat them).
So intentionally gather these things together and as you bag them up to drop off where they can be really used, set the intention of releasing for yourself and that you have created space in your physical life for more abundance and light and that your donations are welcomed and helping someone who will really enjoy them and appreciate them.
So wishing you a stupendous Solstice and a massive release and intention setting. Remember there is no right way, you just have to take the time, set an intention and do it.
Happy holidays to all of you, whether it is Hanukkah, Christmas, Solstice or none of those. May you feel peace, love and tap into your light.