The solstice traditions include the idea that we should recognize and appreciate that this is a time when the earth rests to prepare for the reawakening in the spring.
The winter solstice is one of my favorite days of the year. The name means “the sun stands still” and that’s pretty close to what happens on the shortest day of the year and the corresponding longest night. It marks the beginning of winter in our hemisphere which is on December 21 at 10:27 pm this year. The next day, the sun stays with us slightly longer, with each succeeding day adding minutes of sunlight. This phenomenon has been noted and celebrated by a myriad of cultures, religions, and spiritual traditions since the stone age, and many of the pagan and religious holidays spring from an association with the solstice including Yule and Saturnalia. Saturnalia, which honored the agricultural god Saturn, was a weeklong Roman feast, which included giving gifts, games and merrymaking. Many aspects of the Saturnalia festival, such as gift-giving and decorating homes with greenery and lights, were a direct influence on our modern Christmas celebration. A Scandinavian festival called Juul included feasting and caroling as well as burning logs to welcome the Sun back. So many of our Christmas traditions stem from these ancient practices that celebrate the solstice, such as exchanging gifts, feasting, decorating with greens and burning a yule log.
Preparation for the solstice included clearing out the old and unneeded and cleaning, and replacing with the new. This is the aspect that most appeals to me. The solstice traditions include the idea that we should recognize and appreciate that this is a time when the earth rests to prepare for the reawakening in the spring. This is a good time to spend time alone to contemplate those ideas, actions, interactions, thoughts that have not served us well and decisions to offload those that have sapped our energy or happiness. For me it also involves getting rid of possessions that I don’t need or don’t like. My closets and cupboards expand…at least for a while! Cleaning is never a favorite activity but I promise myself if I dust all my shelves and clean the baseboards, I don’t have to do it again …maybe until the summer solstice! Taking on the new may involve exploring new ideas, finding new friends, starting a new garden, engaging in a new volunteer activity. Solstice involves both looking inward to our most private place and looking outward to how we fit in the human family. It can be challenging.
I have celebrated Solstice with friends and family many times over the years. We start at sundown by turning off all lights and lighting a single candle. As this is passed from hand to hand, each person relates what they may want to get rid of from the past year and what they hope to learn or achieve in the new year. Then the room is filled with light as we light all of the other candles around us, give hugs around, and imbibe in food and drink. We express gratitude and welcome the return of the sun and the future.
Such a simple tradition but one that can help clarify your values and goals as well as create a closure to the old year and a look to the promise of the new year. I invite you to find a few minutes this solstice season, maybe take an evening walk and look for some stars or listen for the breeze through the few leaves that are left on the trees. Either by yourself or with loved ones, pause to reflect, hope, and welcome the return of the sun.
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