The Winter Solstice means “Re-Birth of the Sun” or “New Beginnings” and in the U.S., occurs on Wednesday, December 21, 2016. The winter solstice is celebrated not only as the year’s shortest day, but today’s start of winter also launches the sun’s steady climb towards the long, warm days of summer.
As the longest night or darkest day of the year, Winter Solstice is a powerful moment in the solar cycle where we are reminded that in the darkness we must connect to the light within us. This is more difficult to do when we don’t see light reflected back to us by the outside world. We have to find it inside ourselves at this time of year, and we can celebrate our capacity to do so by honoring this day.
The tradition of celebrating winter solstice is rich with symbolism. Historically, pagan religions celebrated on this darkest night well into the morning to welcome the new light of the next day, even when that light was just the tiniest sliver.
Celebrated in winter – a time of dormancy, darkness and cold, the knowledge that lighter days were coming after the winter solstice brought on a more festive mood. Traditionally, the coming return of the light was a reason to celebrate that nature’s cycle was continuing.
Many ancient cultures had similar spiritual meanings for Winter Solstice, and many seasonal symbols connected to Christmas have their roots in the solstice and pagan celebrations. For example, the yule log came from a pagan ritual. A birch yule log was lit on the eve of the solstice—to conquer the darkness, protect against evil spirits, and bring luck—and burned for 12 hours. A tree, adorned with burning candles, later replaced the log. Holly, with its bright berries and rich foliage, was an important symbol because it could withstand the harshness of winter and maintain its color and life, as could mistletoe and evergreens.
Regardless of what religious beliefs one holds, we all experience the solstice.
Here’s a great way to bring in the winter solstice at home. You can do this alone, or with a group of friends:
1) Create a list of all the things you want to let go of. This list should ideally be about internal struggles; about the stories your mind tells you about yourself.
2) In the evening, sit or lie in the dark for 10 minutes and think of all the things on your list that you are ready to let go of, and who you would be without those stories.
3) After you have mentally run through your list, go back to the physical list and write “THE END” after each item.
4) Crumple that piece of paper and burn it. If you are able to, light a fire. Fire brings the warmth and the light of the Sun.
5) Next, clear the air – if you have a fireplace, add some sage to the fire, or, ideally, smudge your home. (Click here to read our how-to Smudge article.)
6) Sit back down and write down who you will be without all those limiting beliefs that you wiped out. (Burned out!)
7) Now that you have cleared all the negative from your thoughts and your home, take some time to write down your intentions for the beginning of a new year.
Note: December solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly declination. In other words, it is when the North Pole is the most tilted away from the sun. (See diagram below.) In the northern hemisphere, the Winter solstice is the day of the year (near December 22) when the Sun is farthest south. The winter solstice marks the first day of the season of winter and the declination of the Sun on the (northern) winter solstice is known as the tropic of Capricorn .