islandparent Things To Do Nature Winter Solstice Rituals

Winter Solstice Rituals

Nurture a magical relationship with our living world

Does bringing greenery indoors and gathering around a fire bring you joy as the days darken? These are ancient rituals from a time when our ancestors called back the sun. Practices, ceremonies and reverence for light and our living world have always been in our bones. They are also yours to reclaim.

What is winter solstice?

Winter solstice marks the beginning of winter.

Today, we know the science behind the shortest day and longest night of the year. The Earth’s axis tilts away from the sun, leaving the northern hemisphere with less light (and heat) than the southern hemisphere. Before humans understood the Earth tilts and moves around the sun, many cultures performed special rituals and ceremonies to bring back the light. Some believed evil spirits made the sun go away. They looked to their gods and ritual.

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Winter solstice is full of mystery and wonder. It was a time to communicate with the elements and all living things, a day of the sun’s rebirth.

Why is ritual still important?

We know why the days grow shorter, changing position of the Earth in relation to the sun. And we can still be bound by a magical relationship to bring light to the darkest day of the year.

“Ritual and ceremony save us from having to rely on concept to understand what we are doing or explain what we mean. When we perform a ceremony, we enact what we mean. Having performed our ritual, we can see what we are invoking in this very present moment. When we perform a heartfelt ceremony or ritual, we cannot distinguish the symbolism — the chant, the gesture, the shrine — from what it symbolizes. In fact, ritual is always how we join heaven and earth in our lives.” Acharya Daniel Hessey and Walker Blaine

If you haven’t yet embraced a specific winter solstice ritual, it’s okay. How you mark December 21 may be like traditions already alive in your home and family.

Eight winter solstice rituals to try this year:

Evergreens. Bring the outside in. Plants surviving winter were symbols of life! Use evergreens to make wreaths to hang on doors and adorn mantles. Celts added mistletoes on altars.

Light. Bonfires signaled the rebirth of the sun. Some traditions sang and danced around them to drive the dark away. Find ways to celebrate light. Make lanterns from ice or mason jars. Eat supper or host a games night by candlelight. Make your own beeswax or soy wax candles. Watch my DIY YouTube video, “Make your own (non-toxic) candles” when I was David Suzuki’s Queen of Green™. In some traditions, candles (and golden apples) were placed on bare tree branches outside. Sound familiar?

Food. Some cultures had feasts while others fasted. Try an early wake up to greet the sunrise. Find a great vantage point to enjoy tea or hot chocolate. Bring a friend or another family.

Nature. Offer a gesture to give back to nature, like feeding the birds. Black oiled sunflower seeds (in the shell) attract chickadees, finches and nuthatches. Shelled peanuts are a Steller’s Jay favourite!

Walk. Find a local labyrinth or make one in the snow, with stones or lanterns. A spiral walk can be meditative, allowing you to go inward. Make it meaningful by setting an intention as you walk or name what you want to let go. Make it kid-friendly. Invite kids to notice the warmth of the sun on their face or tune into how the sun lights up the world around them.

Lore. Research how your ancestors and culture celebrated. Learn the lore. Don’t know where to start? Look up books, poems, and stories of The Deer Mother. At winter solstice, this female reindeer drew the sleigh of the sun goddess. She flew through the darkest night with the life-giving light of the sun in her horns.

Stories. We are storied people. A friend shared a ritual of staying up weaving stories to keep each other company through the night—a way to celebrate, hold reverence and watch the light return in community. Early stories were kid-friendly, with children participating. After kid bedtime adults told deeper, more layered stories to air grief, pain, joy, and transformation. The evening buzzes with magic and shared company. The stories help us find belonging in the world and with each other.

How will you celebrate winter solstice?

Book Recommendations:

The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer

We Learn from the Sun by David Bouchard

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

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