Winter solstice is truly a magical time of year here in the northern hemisphere. For six months, the days have been getting shorter and the nights longer. Yet from tonight, the light begins to return, to grow in strength, and it's time to celebrate.
Imagine yourself in ancient times in the grips of winter. The ground's barren, the nights are cold, daylight disappears as soon as it begins and food's been rationed until spring. Evening gatherings around the fire are filled with tales of joy, of shared wisdom, but also of mythic beasts and the threat of the unknown. The threat looming until finally, the Sun appears to stand still in the sky for three days and you know this means the promise of winter ending, the new growth of spring and the warmth of summer on its way. Just when everything seems darkest, the light is sure to be reborn.
This time of year was cherished long before Christianity, and now that the hold of the church is lifting, we're free to remember our pagan roots. By embracing the rhythms and cycles of the natural world as our ancestors did, we honour its sacred essence and reconnect with ours. In Newgrange, Ireland on December 21st a beam of sunlight illuminates a passage in its ancient tomb just as it has done every winter solstice for the past 5,000 years. And in Stonehenge, England thousands of people still wrap up warm in anticipation of watching the sunrise from this prehistoric monument.
Of course in modernity, this special holiday is now Christmas for many around the world, a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Yet the Bible makes no mention of the date Jesus was born, and it wasn't until three and a half centuries of Christian rule later, that Pope Julius I moved the birth date to December 25th, coinciding with the much older pagan festivals of Roman Saturnalia and Norse Yule. However, just as pagans celebrate the return of the Sun's warmth to Mother Earth, the birth of Christ can also be seen as a symbol of banishing the dark to welcome the light.
So how to celebrate on this sacred night?
- Gather evergreens, pine cones, and dried berries from your garden or local environment to make a yule log or wreath. Burning yule logs in the fireplace symbolizes the return of light to the womb of the Earth. Making a wreath represents the wheel of the year and is said to call blessings and wealth upon your home.
- Share. Gather your family and closest friends together for feasting, singing and celebrating. With bellies full and hearts merry, share your favourite stories and experiences you're grateful for from the past year.
- Nurture within. Stay inside in the warmth, meditate and journal about your experiences from the past year, the most enjoyable, the most rewarding and those from which you have learnt and can improve upon.
- Release. Think about the habits holding you back from achieving your goals. Write them on a piece of paper and burn them in the fireplace or a safe space, watch and feel the lightness as you say goodbye to that which no longer serves you.
- Give. Make space for the new by donating your excess to charity or make time to consider those less fortunate and volunteer for a community project.
- Light. Wrap up warm, light a candle and take it outside into the darkness. Hold on tight as you walk or sit still, reflect on your intention for the coming year and ask the universe to help make it so. I'm feeling inspired by Swedish Artist Jonna Jinton's tribute to the Swedish tradition of Lucia, a celebration of hope and light.
Sending solstice blessings for warmth, hope and light for all.