With Christmas fast approaching, it can be all too easy to get swept away in the festive frenzy of need and expectation, and to lose sight of the true reason for the season.
Whilst I love celebrating Christmas day conventionally with my family, the real magic for me happens during the Winter Solstice, which falls on December 21st. I share with you some celebratory ideas so that you may be inspired to create your own solstice customs and rekindle some magic to a time of year that has become buried under an avalanche of materialism.
What is the Winter Solstice?
The term solstice is derived from the Latin words for “sun” and “to stand, so solstices are days when the sun reaches its farthest northern and southern declinations.
The Winter Solstice, also known as the pagan festival of Yule, marks the mid-point of winter and brings the promise of new beginnings as we move out of the darkness and into increasingly lighter, warmer days. It signals the return of light after the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere as from this day forward a new cycle begins of increasing daylight as the sun begins its journey Northward, each day becoming a little bit lighter.
The Winter Solstice celebrates of the rebirth of the sun, or the newborn sun, which was personified into the newborn ‘son’ in Christian mythology. Although Christmas is generally recognised as a Christian festival, its roots lie in Pagan midwinter festivals and can be traced as far back as ancient Egyptian times. As with many other mid-winter festivals across the globe, Winter Solstice celebrates the LIGHT of the returning sun – and also a recognition of the LIGHT within others and ourselves. Many of today’s traditions such as lighting candles, hanging fairy lights, Christmas trees and yule logs originated from Solstice customs.
The Underlying Energy
Winter is the season of stillness and rest, during which time plants and animals slow down to conserve energy. Whilst the outer world appears still, deep within the earth much activity is brewing, with seeds gestating ready to give birth in Spring. Likewise, we can use this time to withdraw and go within, to delve deep into own inner worlds, to name our dreams and give birth to our visions.
In the stillness of introspection, we can reflect on the past year before beginning anew in the next. In taking stock of our lives (without judgement) we identify what we need to cast off and what we hope to achieve in the coming year. As we release the dead wood in our lives, we make space for new opportunities to flow in and help us to move forward in the direction of our dreams. It is also a time to celebrate our accomplishments, and express gratitude for the blessings in our lives.
Below are some celebration ideas that anyone could do. They are not rooted in any religion or creed, they simply invite us to recognise the wonder of nature in reverence of the sustenance it provides, to appreciate the life giving properties of the sun, without which we would not exist. I often draw inspiration from the fabulous books of Glennie Kindred who generously shares her wealth of wisdom of magical ways to celebrate the Earth cycles, or the Wheel of the Year. (books listed below). I was fortunate enough to study with Glennie this year to deepen my undestanding of celebratory rituals.
7 Simple Celebratory rituals to honor Winter Solstice:
1. Honour the Sun by watching the sunrise or set. I love to feel the warmth of the sun on my face on a crisp winter day as I watch as it descends into a blaze of beautiful hues. I can’t say I’m brave enough to leave the comfort of my warm duvet in time for sunrise though! Maybe next year!
2. Fire Ritual. Gather with loved ones, surrounded by the glow of lit candles. Together reflect over the past year; your perceived successes and shortcomings. Each person take two pieces of paper and on one write what you wish to let go of, (ie. past hurts, grudges, anger, loss, emotional baggage you wish to shed etc.) On another piece of paper write your aspirations and intentions for the coming year; your hearts desires you hope to fulfil. Gather around a fire, and in turn read aloud (or in silence) your notes and throw them into the fire. The idea is to cast off that which holds you back, making space to birth your hopes and dreams.
3. Light a Yule log to lighten up long winter nights. Druids began this tradition to conquer the darkness, banish dark spirits and bring luck for the coming year. Gather loved ones around an open fire to celebrate together.
4. Light candles or fairy lights to symbolise the increasing light. Light always shine the brightest in the dark, just as flowers eventually emerge out of the darkness of winter, we can use this powerful metaphor to remind ourselves of our own inner light, and of the need to acknowledge our own darkness. As we examine the hidden aspects of ourselves, our shadow self, our wounds and pain, we give them space to be released. It also helps to remember when handling challenging situations that from our pain, we eventually emerge stronger and wiser. Just like a tiny seed, in order to grow it needs to be submerged in dirt, darkness and struggle to reach the light! So be like a candle and shine brightly in the dark winter months!
5. Perform a spiral candle ritual to represent the journey of returning light (see picture above). As you inwardly journey into the centre of the spiral of unlit candles (representing the darkness of the subconscious), release that which no longer serves you. Affirm out loud ”I now release (insert limiting behaviours, past hurts, emotions, fears, situations you wish to change)...It is done, So Mote It Be” Now spiral back outwards from the centre, this time lighting one candle at a time, and set an intention for the coming year with each candle that you light. Alternatively, you can write a list of what you wish to let go of and another list of new years intentions, then burn the list in the fire as you release them to the universe to take care of.
5. Nature Walk. Since the true meaning reflects a reverence for nature, spend time walking in the countryside, grounding, being mindful and thankful for nature’s wonders. Spend quality time with loved ones on a nurturing nature walk gathering winter foliage such as holly, mistletoe, pinecones and evergreen sprigs. Gather winter foliage such as:
- Mistletoe: seen by pagans as the seed of the Divine, a symbol of life in the dark winter months.
- Evergreen: represents the eternal aspect of the Divine, as they do not die. This tradition lives on with today’s humble Christmas tree. Cut some evergreen leaves to make into wreaths.
- Holly: believed to bring luck so keep a sprig of Holly near your door to invite good fortune into your life in the coming year.
6. Get Creative in making homemade natural decorations and gifts. Deck the halls with real holly this year and bring nature into your home using seasonal foliage, dried oranges, cinnamon, pine cones, ribbons etc. Homemade natural decorations not only bring joy to the whole family, but also avoids the harmful disposable culture of non-biodegradable plastic decorations.
7. Visit a sacred site such as a stone circle and soak up the magical solstice energies whilst setting intentions for the year ahead. One of my favourite stone circles to visit is the Rollright Stones in the Cotswolds as it’s close to where I grew up so holds a heartfelt significance for me. The Solstice is a perfect time to review the years events and to to let go of unwanted baggage. Contemplate how have you succeeded? what lessons have you learned? what could you enhance next year? I enter into a little self-guided meditation whereby I invoke the presence of the nature spirits, guardians of the stones and any beings of light that I feel drawn to, and see a cascading waterfall of light cleansing me of unhelpful energies, thought forms, beliefs, patterns and behaviours that no longer serve me, or which hold me back in life. After which I walk the circumference of the stones in a clockwise direction as I set my intentions for the coming year, visualising and really feeling myself achieving my goals, dreams and hearts desire.
Here are some shots of the Rollright Stones on Winter Solstice:
However you choose to celebrate, I wish you all a magical Winter Solstice, a very merry Christmas and a healthy, happy new year! May we all SHINE brightly in the year to come, knowing the truth of who we are on a soul level.
Love Emma. xx
RESOURCES and FURTHER READING:
The Earth’s Cycle of Celebration ~ Glennie Kindred
Earth Wisdom ~ Glennie Kindred