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Celebrating Winter Solstice

Why do we celebrate the winter solstice?

Let’s start with the science. The Winter Solstice is the point of the year at which the path of the sun in the sky is farthest south. Here in the Northern Hemisphere this occurs in December, between the 20th to the 23rd of the month. The sun travels the shortest path across the sky giving us the shortest day of the year with the least sunlight and subsequently, the longest night.

The hushed darkness of winter is at its deepest on the solstice, yet for thousands of years it has been celebrated as a promise of the brighter days ahead. The winter solstice is a tipping point, a moment of stillness when the balance of the seasonal scales will once again begin to tilt towards the light. Since long, long ago humans have been aware of this tipping point and celebrated the long night as a marker of new life and warmth returning.

These days we may find that Christmas celebrations become the focus of our attention around this time, there is usually so much to do and little time to rest when we find ourselves preparing for family visits, buying gifts and tackling the mighty food shop! But there is so much internal gold to be mined at this midwinter point, so much connection and grounding to be found in this quiet seasonal milestone, I think it’s well worth carving out some time for each year, if we can.

How to celebrate the Winter Solstice

3 simple ways to honour the shortest day

1. Light up the longest night

“In the Druidic tradition the name of this festival is “Alban Arthan”, Welsh for “Light of Winter”. According to an older and more poetic interpretation, the name is “Alban Arthuan”, meaning “Light of Arthur”. In this poetical image, Arthur is symbolized by the Sun. The Sun dies and is reborn, just as the mythical Arthur is sleeping deep inside a mountain and will wake up again when the people need his help.”

Of course I would choose candlelight for number one! Even the small act of striking a match and lighting a wick can be easily turned into a mindful ritual, an action which provides a minute of clarity within a busy day and one which takes us back to the present moment, even in a house full of noise, chaos and kids running wild!

Bringing light to the dark is a simple yet powerful acknowledgment of the seasonal shift and an invitation to take some time to consider what the winter solstice means and how we are feeling at this point in the year. Candles are symbolic of the returning of the light and have been used for many centuries past to focus our attention and create a sacred space.

Lighting a fire in the grate, or a bonfire in the garden is also a traditional way to mark this day. The ancient Norse would burn a Yule log in their celebration of the return of the sun at winter solstice. “Yule” came from the Norse word hweol, meaning wheel. This practice of burning a Yule log can also be found in many other countries and in the Pagan, Wiccan and Druid traditions too.

2. Reflect on the year gone by

The solstice and equinox points give us quarter milestones in the year to reflect and reset. This has been a year of huge upheaval, emotion and uncertainty so I know I am likely not alone in needing a little time to consider what this past year has changed in me and how I might use that knowledge in the next chapter ahead.

Winter is a time for stories, a time for hopes and dreams birthed from the darkness and given time to stretch and grow before they see the light of day. What story do you want to see come to life next year?

Journaling is a wonderful way to get down some of these thoughts and reflections on the winter solstice. Remember that journaling doesn’t have to look like pages and pages of thoughtful verse – you can choose to jot down a few key words which sum up your feelings, or if you are more visual person sketch out a spider diagram or mind map which pulls out your perceptions of what has passed and your hopes for what might be – use whatever method works for you.

“There is a reason why some of our most enduring holidays of mysticism occur during the cold months. Winter is a time when unseen energies steps forth out of the fog— when the above-ground world goes back to the roots and the hidden mysteries of spirit can bloom.” Asia Suler – One Willow Apothecaries

3. Find nourishment in your favourite winter comforts

Brew up your favourite seasonal tea or make a hot chocolate with the works. Find something which warms your body and feels like a small luxury and take it to a quiet part of the house, or over to your favourite window. Sit down and take the time to savour it. Letting our bodies be still and allowing our minds to wander doesn’t always feel easy, there is a temptation to constantly fill ourselves up with scrolling, doing chores, working, cleaning – anything to keep our minds occupied.

But the stillness of the winter solstice, and the call of the winter season in general, is an invitation to let ourselves drift. So try to give yourself a little time to do just that.

“Pause here. You are deep in the heart of the darkest nights. The world is hushed: The trees are dwelling in their roots, and the earth’s small creatures have gone to ground. Turn inward and listen to the stories of your deepest self.”- Maia Toll

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