Updated: Dec 29, 2021
This is a unique time of year where the days move from darkness back towards the light.
What is the winter solstice?
If you live in the northern hemisphere, chances are you have noticed that the hours of sunlight during the day have slowly been decreasing since the fall. The darkest of all of these days lands on the date of the winter solstice. After the winter solstice, the sun begins to increase the amount of hours it shows itself in our skies. This happens during December in the northern hemisphere and while the southern hemisphere is experiencing more sun.
When is the winter solstice in 2021?
The solstice takes place between December 20-23 and falls on Tuesday, the 21st in 2021. It marks the start of the astronomical winter and is the longest night of the year.
The significance of the winter solstice
Celebrations of the winter solstice can be traced as far back to the Neolithic time period (10,200 BC) and was a way for our ancestors to plan out their agricultural seasons. Without electricity, there was no escaping that the day was getting shorter outside and the seasons were changing. This schedule impacted the amount of time and energy that could be exerted in sowing and harvesting crops. Overtime cultures created their own calendars to help them mark these significant seasonal changes through the placement of large rocks. Stonehenge is thought to be one of these places. On the solstice, the sun would set directly over the same place each year and it would help the community know that the winter was coming and along with it the return of more light during the day.
With the shorter days of sunlight and cooler temperatures in most places, it also meant that the growing and harvesting of food had come to a halt and people now were focused on utilizing what goods they were able to store to help get them through the coldest days. On the night where the sun was at its darkest traditions began celebrating the return of these longer days and honored the sun returning.
Elements of nature were brought indoors to be honored and used as protection for evil spirits. This is why the tradition of bringing in a tree, adorning our doors with wreaths and lighting candles originated from. Evergreens trees and wreaths traditionally symbolize life, rebirth and renewal as their color never fades. Holly was a symbol of hope and for the Holly King of nordic cultures. Mistletoe used by the Druids during winter ceremonies was to honor the fertility of the Mother Goddess and the Oak King as a symbol of fertility. The Yule tree
represented the tree of life and decorated with gifts people wished to receive from the gods. Natural ornaments were created utilizing pinecones, dried fruits, exc. to honor the gods and goddesses of the natural world.
How can you celebrate the Winter Solstice?
There is not one way to celebrate the winter solstice but for those looking to deepen their connection to the natural world, we can look back to what our nature based ancestors used to do. My hope is by more of us connecting to these natural cycles in nature, and aligning ourselves with the rhythms, we can move through life with more grace, peace, health and happiness by seeing our interconnectivity to our environment. By following these natural rhythms we are invited to heighten our human awareness of our role and purpose in this life.
Winter Solstice Traditions From Around the World:
The Romans spent the week leading up to the solstice celebrating Saturnalia, in honor of the god of agriculture ruler of the planet Saturn. This was a time when communities would come together and gorge on food and drink. During this time the social order of slave and master was nearly forgotten for the course of a month. Slaves were treated as equals and allowed to move about as they liked and for a month people were allowed to relax, spend time with family and community and rest from economic, labor activities.
In the north, the Scandinavian and Northern Germanic cultures celebrate Yule. To honor the return of the sun over this period, a large log, which would be referred to as the Yule log would be placed on a fire. Part of this log would be burnt at the time, with the remainder being saved to be burnt the next year. While this log burned, the community would come together and celebrate until it had all nearly been burned, often saving a piece to start next years yule fire.
Elves were a part of these cultural celebrations as they were affiliated with the spirits that created the Sun. When Christianity was later introduced to the Scandinavian cultures around 1000 AD St. Lucia’s Day was held as a festival of lights to honor the martyr St. Lucia. To honor her, traditionally the eldest daughter in the house will reenact the act of St. Lucia brining food to the Christians hiding in the catacombs by wearing a candlelit wreath on her head and making a traditional sweet bread.
Dong Zhi was celebrated by the Chinese and focused on the positive energy coming in with the suns returns. This also included feasting, resting and celebrations.
For the Zuni people in western New Mexico, the winter solstice marked the beginning of the new year and was honored with dance.
In the Inca Empire, the community honored the sun god Inti during their celebration Into Raymi or sun festival. This would be celebrated in June when they experience their Winter Solstice. Their celebrations traditionally included fasting, sacrifices, offerings and fires.
Winter Solstice Activities:
As you can see there is no one right way to celebrate the solstice but the common thread is appreciating the brighter days ahead, gathering together with friends and honoring the sun. Here are just a few ways to help get the ideas going as you create your own new traditions.
decorate your yule tree
cut down and burn your yule log
cook up a traditional winter solstice feast- Yule log cake, gingerbead, wassail, roasted nuts, pork, turkey, eggnog, tea, cider, stock
celebrate with friends through nature crafting and eating warming foods
create an advent spiral walk and invite your community to join you
decorate a wreath, a traditional symbol of the wheel of the year
utilize herbs to create a winter cordial/bitter
create a nature alter of the winter elements
forage and decorate the home with evergreens, pinecones, exc.
decorate a tree outside for the animals with seeds and berries
spend the whole night by candlelight
meditate outside on the evening of the solstice
journal all that you are leaving behind in the darkness and all you are carrying forward into the light
go on a winter walk and observe what is happening with the plants, birds, etc.
look after the birds by providing food and fresh water for them to help see them through the toughest parts of the winter.
get outside and visit with a tree. They will enjoy your company.
have a fire outside and dive into these darkest nights
Winter Solstice Blessing
"The longest night has come once more,
the sun has set, and darkness fallen.
The trees are bare, the earth asleep,
and the skies are cold and black.
Yet tonight we rejoice, in this longest night,
embracing the darkness that enfolds us.
We welcome the night and all that it holds,
as the light of the stars shines down."
What other ways are you looking forward to celebrating the solstice?