The Winter Solstice. The shortest day of the year, the darkest day of the year. When the sun reaches the Tropic of Capricorn and the visual southernmost point, no matter where you are on Earth. Solstice is Latin for, ‘Sun Stands Still’.
The solstice has been full of lore and tradition since ancient times. It was even known as the true new year in some cultures.
The Druids celebrated it as ‘Alban Arthan’ meaning the old sun dies. They watched the previous year pass with dusk on the solstice, and believed that the sun of the new year was born with the dawn of the next morning. The new year of the sun revives the Earth’s aura and gives a new lease on life to our souls & spirits.
It is even believed that Stonehenge may have been erected to mark the passage of time by using the solstices as it’s beginning & ending points. There are great festivals held to this day on the land surrounding the monument to celebrate both the Summer & the Winter Solstice.
In Scandanavia & across Europe, the solstice brought with it the ‘Festival of Juul’, or the Yule festival. The lighting of the yule log (or rather, usually an entire tree, lit as a bonfire in the yard!) was the center of the this celebration. The lore behind this act was to rejoice in the heat & life giving properties of the sun & the joy of its warmth being returned to the people. For everyday after the Winter Solstice the days become even just a bit longer, and with it more sun in each.
Traditionally the log, or tree, would be Ash. And it should only be burned partially. The remaining would be saved in the home as a token of good luck & used as kindling in the next year’s blaze. Fire & the ashes left behind are just another representation of the earth healing. Just as we need time to heal & replenish, the solstice is the time when Mother Earth retreats to do the same.
Ancient Romans created their ceremony, Saturnalia, surrounding the Winter Solstice. They were devoted to Saturn & praised her at the festival. It was a 7 day feast of merriment. A time to forgive any grudges or quarrels and begin new. Even war was postponed during the festivities.
In many communities, the people stayed awake all night on the darkest longest night
There are clear commonalities among the Ancient civilizations that put focus on the Winter Solstice, & what I take to this time myself.
- To Acknowledge & honor your shadow self. Let your outer self reflect your inner self.
- Let go of the past year and welcome a new year with the rising of the sun the morning after the solstice.
- Light candles, lanterns or fires to be placed in the windows of your home, on the outside of your home to share your light with your friends & community.
There are so many ways we can celebrate this beautiful time in our own homes. I am going to give a long list of ideas. You can do several, or even just think about it for a moment. Whatever you choose to do, it is a time to honor ourselves. It is indeed, ‘The return of light’. And there are oh so many ways that I know, in my own world, that is a soothing and uplifting thought.
*A meditation – A peaceful ritual to honor the sun’s light as a reflection of the light that burns brightly within each one of us. Even during the darkest day (s) of the year.
*Pomander – The orange is a symbol of the sun. These are traditionally given as gifts on the solstice to symbolize nature & the returning light, love & prosperity of the sun into our lives. Think of hanging one in a room where the sun can hit it, or above the hearth where you can smell the sweet cloves and orange oil as your yule log burns.
*Make Wassail or homemade Gin to drink by candlelight on the solstice & throughout the darkest nights of winter. The spices in both drinks are each representations of the winter solstice and warm our bodies & spirits from the inside out.
*Use Colors – Red, orange & yellow are the colors associated with the sun. Red is the color associated with the root chakra (base of the spine). This chakra is the grounding force that allows us to connect to the earth energies & empower our beings. White is the color associated with winter, and also with purification. Hang white snowflakes & stars in your home to keep the spiritual environment clean. Fill white pillows with herbs to create a sacred space for meditation.
*Use Herbs/Plants – Pines, Fir, Juniper & all evergreens are associated with the solstice. Evergreen represents abundance, so bringing an evergreen into the home is a celebration of good health during the darkest, coldest time of year…one of the reasons that the Christmas tree tradition began. Cedar is commonly used for protection & prosperity. Cedar also allays grief & is lit to restore any weakness of heart. It is influenced by Jupiter & the fire element. It brings confidence, growth, magnetism & good health. It is a germ fighting & tonifying botanical that cleanses the air and the body. It fortifies the immune system against seasonal maladies, including seasonal depression. Cinnamon is associated with both Mars & mercury & embodies fire. It brings purification, success,& psychic vision. Bay Laurel (Bay Tree/Bay Leaves) ‘brings the light of summer to the darkest days’. Chamomile Flowers bring the power of the sun. Rosemary, thyme, orange zest & lemon balm are all associated with the solstice as well. Consider creating an herbal tea out of any number of these and sipping on it throughout your festivities.
*Burn a Yule Log – We may not be going out into the forest and cutting down an ash tree to watch burn through the night within our village, but we can certainly have a fire either inside or outside of our homes to release our burdens of the previous year and welcome he new year with vitality and zest for life. Yule is about cultivating strength, gratitude & hope. We release our struggles with the burning fire & welcome the energy of the sun…our source of vitality that carries us through all hardship.
*Release on Paper – Spiritually it is supposed to be a time of letting go. Writing down the things that you may need or want to let go of is a very cathartic way of doing so. Let go of any hurt caused by or done to you, injustices, judgements, pain, confusion. Anything that you can think of that should be left behind until you begin to feel lighter. Honor these thoughts, these messages that the shadows within you & the darkness of the night has shared with you. Let it shed light on the darkest parts of yourself. And then throw it into your yule log fire. Watch as your darkness turns into light.
*Set your intentions – Whether you stay awake through the night to see the first new sunrise of the year, it is indeed the time to set your intentions for the year to come.
*Bathe – After releasing all of that extra weight & planning for the new year, it is cleansing and beneficial to your muscles & soul to relax in the safest of spaces. Water. Make it hot, light candles, & drop in some salt to ignite the fire energy within you as you continue your journey of the dark night of the soul.
*Use Stones – Whether you set up a small altar during your celebrations, drop the stones into or on the side of your bath, or hang them on the boughs of your evergreen tree, there are many rocks & minerals associated with the solstice.
-Selenite – Know for its purifying white light and restorative powers. Self cleansing, clearing of the mind, & balancing the energy in the home.
-Red, Orange & Yellow Stones – During winter, the lack of sun reduces the fire energy in our lives and homes. Adding stones with fire energy to your space help to evoke the sun’s warmth & inspire enthusiasm as it calls in the life giving fire energy to renew the fire in your soul.
-Citrine – Known as the sunbeam crystal, bringing light during the dark, long days of winter. It literally stimulates our ‘solar’ plexus, promoting presence & joy, soothing stresses, especially surrounding finances. Citrine has long been known to have anti depressant qualities, so it makes sense to call on its calming power during the darker days/months of the year to help let your wisdom through. Keep this ray of light nearby all winter long.
-Garnet – The warrior stone. Carried on shields & set into swords since ancient times. It activates the root chakra. promotes a feeling of safety & security, protection & healing. It ignites passion & stirs sensual and creative energies in the body.
Basically at the root of self care and celestial awareness of our inner and outer selves…treat your soul to a cleanse and rebirth at the same time as our dear Mother Earth. Even though months of dark winter lie ahead, each and every day holds a little more light. Hold that light for yourself and others around you, and be washed of the year’s past darkness. At the end of the longest night, there will be light. Happy Solstice.