Celebrate the Winter Solstice
Despite the noise from the media telling us that this is the season to eat, drink and be merry and to shop ‘til we drop, winter can also be a time for reflection and quietude. It might be fun to get caught up in the fun and frenzy of the merry go round of Christmas but tuning into the natural world by marking the winter solstice can be a beautiful way to honour the fact that our earth and natural world are governed by the cycles of the solar system in which we live.
The Winter Solstice
The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. In 2021 it falls on the 21st December in the northern hemisphere (this date marks the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere). The word solstice comes from two Latin words: sol meaning sun and sistere meaning “to stand still” because it appears as though the sun and moon stop moving across the sky for a few days.
It’s no coincidence that Christmas happens a few days after the solstice when our ancestors celebrated the returning of the sun as the days gradually started to lengthen. It’s likely that the Christians simply tagged the celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus onto a festival that was happening amongst nature based religions and indigenous peoples long before Christianity
You may notice that much of the natural world has a period of dormancy around this time before bursting forth as the days grow longer. Western societies don’t tend to honour this need but for thousands of years midwinter was considered a sacred time of ritual, reflection and renewal. Many people feel drawn to turning inwards as the days shorten, feeling a greater need for introspection and stillness. You may notice feelings of sorrow or melancholia as some things come to an end. But remember, as TS Eliot says: In my end is my beginning. There are no endings without beginnings and new opportunities. Honour the sorrow but know that it will pass.
Creating a meaningful celebration of the winter solstice can help to cultivate a deeper connection with each other, the earth and the numinous. Being together with loved ones of different generations reminds us that we belong to something bigger than ourselves, that we are part of a tribe that was here before us and will continue after we have gone.
Rituals involving candles and fire are often used at midwinter as reminders that the sun will return as a unifying source of light and life.
One ritual that can harness the power of the season is to write down all that is no longer serving you and that you would like to let go. Once you’ve written everything down put the piece of paper into a fire and watch as the flames take it away.
Then write down your intentions for the following year. Store them in a box or jar and return to them at the Spring Equinox in March when they can be reflected on or renewed.
Another good starting point might be to spend more time in stillness, listening, watching, and honouring the slower, quieter rhythm of the season. On the solstice, visit a place in nature that’s special to you and watch the sun rise or set.
Sharing food is an important part of any celebration. During the solstice food represents faith that the sun will return and the harvest will be bountiful in the year to come. Preparing a meal using the bounty of this year’s harvest of vegetables and fruits to share with friends or family or to enjoy alone is a good way to give thanks for the year that is ending. It’s also a time to care for the wild animals by offering food such as seeds and fat balls to birds and other creatures or to leave seed heads on garden plants rather than tidying them away.
See recipes in the blog post Christmas Treats to Share for some tasty offerings for family and friends, as well as for yourself.
Decorate Your Home
The use of evergreens to decorate the home also goes back centuries. Evergreens, such as holly, ivy and fir, symbolise the continuity and bountifulness of life. Go out into nature and collect a few bits of greenery to brighten your home (along with all the tinsel, fairy lights, and decorations that you desire!).
And if you or anyone you know suffers with their mental health do read the blog post Look After Your Mental Health This Christmas.