Winter solstice is possibly one of the oldest holidays still celebrated around the world. Saturnalia, a seven-day celebration of the returning light, was celebrated in ancient Rome as far back as 237 BCE. In New Grange, Ireland, a stone temple built between 3100 and 2900 BCE, a beam of light enters a 62 foot long long passage at exactly the Winter Solstice and shines for 17 minutes. And ten-thousand-year-old neolithic land mounds in North America also show knowledge of and alignment with, the winter solstice.
In the Northern Hemisphere the winter solstice happens around December 21. If you look up the history of this celebration, you will read that during harsh and brutal winters, the solstice commemorated the growing light and better days ahead. I think we have a tendency to give too much credit to modern cultural advances and too little credit to the knowledge, wisdom, and resiliency of our ancestors (and other modern-day cultures that live closer to the land). These celebrations were a way to note the importance of this special moment in time and pay homage to powers far beyond human comprehension. In our techno age of phones, computers, and screens, we have lost touch with the essential connection to both the land and the sky. Celebrating the winter solstice can return the sense of mystery and awe found in the living animate world you inhabit.
Winter solstice is a time to renew, to remind ourselves of the need for both light and dark, and to tap into our inner reserves of creativity. The solstice is a time to pay attention to dreams and to contemplate the cycles of nature, life, death, and rebirth. The longest night is a time to appreciate the still point before a new cycle emerges, and to let go of something old in order to invite in something new.
Five Ways to Celebrate the Winter Solstice
1. Candle Meditation—If you are seeking solitude and quiet: light a candle in the dark, and silently observe the flickering flame. You might keep a journal nearby for any ideas or inspirations that come to you
2. Soup and Story—If you are seeking community: invite a few loved ones over for bread and a pot of soup. Perhaps have everyone contribute one ingredient for the soup pot. Then, sitting around candles or a fireplace, take turns sharing stories. They could be stories you read or stories you imagine, or stories from your childhood. Invite everyone to clean their own dish in a ritual, and as the water washes over their bowls, imagine clearing out the old and inviting in something new.
3. Journal Reflections—either alone or with a group, spend time journaling around these questions:
- How do quiet dark time allows us to arrive at deeper levels of understanding and perception?
- What in your life can you release during this solstice?
- What can you allow to be reborn?
4. Make a Simmer Pot—Infuse your home with the soothing scents of the season. Fill a sauce pan with water. Add cinnamon sticks for prosperity, pine needles for luck, orange and lemon peel for new beginnings, and bay leaves for success in your ventures.
5. Moon Watch—Make a mug of hot tea, bundle up, and head outdoors to watch the moon and the sky. Spend at least 20 minutes outdoors (weather permitting); you might sit or you might go for a walk. Remind yourself that your ancestors looked at the sky as frequently as we look at our phones and screens. Think to yourself: what inspires a sense of awe and connection in my life? Once you return inside, go back to your journal and make some notes or write a poem.
As you honor this liminal season of the Winter Solstice, may your body remember its ancestral connection to the sun, moon, and stars.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash