Winter Solstice celebrations have been common across cultures since prehistory. Occurring when the Earth’s axis is at its maximum tilt away from the sun, the winter solstice is the day when the Northern Hemisphere experiences the shortest amount of daylight and the longest night of the year. It also marks the first day of winter. This year, the winter solstice falls on Friday, December 21.
Solstice comes from two Latin words: sol meaning "sun" and sistere meaning “to stand still” because the sun and moon seem to briefly stop in their movements across the sky. The solstice is most often associated with the druids who mark the start of the solar year with a celebration of light and the rebirth of the Sun.
With less than 12 hours of daylight, the solstice is a time to remind ourselves of the cyclical nature of the seasons, which gives us hope in renewal, both for ourselves and for the world. No matter how dark it may seem, light will return. This can be a time to go inward to nurture the spirit and a deeper connection to nature and family, and to renew our trust that brighter days lie ahead. Faith traditions celebrate this season in a variety of ways, and of course we can create our own solstice traditions.
The tradition of the yule log, a large log put on the hearth to burn through Christmas Eve, actually dates back to the solstice celebrations of pre-Christian Scandinavia. Fires would be lit to symbolize the returning Sun, and yule logs were burned as a tribute to the Norse god Thor. Villagers sat around the fires throughout the night while drinking mead and listening to stories.
Candles are another way to symbolize the return of the sun and the coming of light into the darkness.
Step away from the bustle of shopping and holiday preparations to reconnect with nature. A walk in the woods during a time when many people choose to stay indoors can help us to experience a side of nature we don’t normally see. Enjoy the silence, and keep an eye out for wildlife going about their winter tasks. Take your camera along to capture the sites and leave seeds on the snow for birds and other creatures that are fending for themselves in the cold.
Solstice traditions include decorating the home with supposedly sacred herbs and red, green, and white colors. Holly, ivy, and evergreen boughs and pine cones symbolize the continuity of life, protection, and prosperity, and they smell nice, too. Mistletoe hung above a threshold was originally seen as a good luck charm to hang there all year, until the next Yule. (The related kisses are a bonus!)
Slow down, honor the present moment, being receptive to what comes rather than trying to bring things into being. An hour of intentional silence (with all electronics off!) is a way of reconnecting to ourselves during this busy season. For early risers, enjoy the sunrise!
Solstice feasts remind us to have faith in the return of the growing season. Roasted winter vegetables (see our recipe with the maple syrup article in this issue) are great to include, as well as traditional hot wassail (recipe below).
Traditional Hot Wassail
2 quarts apple cider
2 c pineapple juice
1 1⁄2 c orange juice
3⁄4 c fresh lemon juice
1 c granulated sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
1 t ground cloves
¼ t ground ginger
¼ t ground nutmeg
Combine and simmer over low heat for half an hour.
However you choose to celebrate the solstice, we wish you the warmth of family and friends, and much light and hope for the coming year!