Winter Solstice! Ways to Reconnect to this Cycle of Life on Earth
Today is the Winter Solstice! Ways to Reconnect to this Cycle of Life on Earth (In the Northern Hemisphere!)
This is the darkest night of the year, when celebration and community are more important than ever. We gather friends, prepare feasts, and give thanks. Soon the winter will be at its harshest — but we bring cheer into this darkest of days, and remind ourselves of the things that make life worth living. We remind ourselves of our resiliency, of our capability to weather any dark yet to come.
Nature offers useful lessons at this time — the necessary cycles of darkness and its inevitable passing. We are reminded that it is only through death can something can be reborn. Midwinter is symbolic of the sun’s cyclic rejuvenation. Druids celebrate this day as Alban Arthan (“Light of Winter”). It is a time to welcome the return of the light. There are many other winter solstice observances—such as the Dōngzhì “Extreme of Winter” festival in East Asia, structured as a reminder of balance and harmony in the cosmos.
From this point forward the daylight hours will grow longer, and the community looks forward to this increase in warm, positive energy. In the early Christian calendar, Christmas was tied to the Roman Winter Equinox celebration of Saturnalia—until the year 336, when it was changed to the 25th of December by Emperor Constantine. Many of the current traditions of Christmas—including the lighting of lights as a symbol of the returning sun, the evergreen as a symbol of life pervading through the winter, the feasting and giving of gifts— have been passed to us from the equinox celebrations that preceded our present holiday season.
Here are some ideas for marking the winter solstice: Invite the Light: On the longest night of the year, kindle a natural flame to bring light into the darkness, gather around a small fire, burn a Yule log, or pull out your collection of candles.
To further engage the metaphor, make space to turn inwards and invite the light within. See what parts of you are illumined, and what is left in the shadowed corners of self. Reflect on this by writing, making, or sharing with your loved ones.
Ask: What have I left in the dark? What ought I bring into the light? This is a great space in which to consult the I Ching or a Tarot deck, and explore the dark, unconscious aspects of yourself.
Observing the Light: The winter solstice is a time of transition. For some cultures it is the beginning of their new year. For others, it is a changing of powers in their cosmic narrative. What better way to breathe in the changing of days than to wake up early and observe sunrise? Invite loved ones to join you. Plan an ideal spot, set your alarm, and welcome the return of the sun If possible, plan a similar break in your evening festivities to observe the setting of the sun.
A Poetry Reading: One of my favorite solstice traditions comes from the Iranian celebration of Yaldā: the communal reading of poetry. This is easy to incorporate, and can be done in two ways. The first is to simply invite your guests to bring a poem they are fond of to share; the second is to invite them to bring a poem of their own to share.(And, of course, people can mix and match!) If you are hosting a longer evening, perhaps space out the readings, and have a breaks for mingling and conversation. Asking people to read during or after dinner is another good strategy — go around that table and take turns standing up and speaking.
Ward off the Cold: There is a tradition in Japan of taking yuzu-yu — a warm bath infused with yuzu, a citrus fruit native to Japan. It is said to promote good health, smooth skin, and an eased mind. Sometimes, what we need most these festival seasons is a little “me” time: draw yourself a warm, candlelit bath and infuse it with a citrus local to you. Sink in. Breathe.
Create an Altar: Creating a mindful Yule altar is a fun way to reflect on the symbols of winter and our relationship to nature’s cycles. Once you’ve designated aspace decorate it with intention. Use cool blues and whites to represent the chill of winter. Intersperse pops of red, orange, and green in homage to the flora of the season. Incorporate the sun’s return with symbols like gold discs or bright bells. Venture to the nearby woods, hills, plains or beaches to find relics representative of the nature around you — needles or cones from evergreens like pine, fir, or juniper are classics—but the most important thing is to engage with the ecosystem that you live in. That bowl of fresh fruit in your kitchen might find itself happier on your altar! Give Back to Nature: The winter solstice is emblematic of the natural, cyclical relationship of life and death—so what better time to take supportive action in welcoming life back to the world? Look for opportunities local to you in which you might give back to the natural world you are a part of. It could be a clean up of some kind, planting a tree somewhere, or simply donating to your preferred Earth-friendly movement.