Winter Solstice! The best day of the year – the shortest day/longest night, marking the movement back towards warmth, growth and rebirth.
I love solstice because it’s the time when these “go-to-work-in-the-dark-go-home-in-the-dark” days begin to leave us.
The time when we are reminded that no matter how much darkness is around, the light always comes back.
Here in Alberta, it hardly feels like midwinter – today was our first big snowfall since October! But last night it began snowing, as if the earth could feel that we needed a physical reminder of this season. My mid-day meeting was cancelled due to the slippery roads, and I took the free hour to tramp through the fresh, thick snow to the river near my house. Sunlight glittered across the snow and dazzled in the water. What a perfect day to appreciate the sun!
Solstices have been celebrated since the start of recorded history. Most ancient ruins around the world are oriented to the solstices and equinoxes, including Stonehenge in England, Chichen Itza in Mexico, Mnajdra in Malta, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Great Pyramids at Giza, and countless others. Measuring time is hard, and equinoxes and solstices were a reliable way to mark time, leading to massive structures, festivals, and rituals surrounding them.
Today, measuring time is still hard for us. Though we have an abundance of time-keeping devices, our fast-paced world and ever-present electric light and sound make it hard for us to slow down and observe the changes of the seasons. Our natural tendencies to slow, rest and rejuvenate in this time are drowned out by the rush and stimulation of everything around us.
Keeping rituals like the celebration of solstice reminds us how to keep time.
It reminds us of the importance of cycles and rhythms.
Not hurrying ever onwards, but taking cycles of hard work
matched by rhythms of rest, reflection and intention.
Here are a few ways to celebrate this wonderful occasion:
- Appreciate winter with all your senses
Explore a natural area near your home. Notice how the seemingly quiet forest lights up with sound as soon as you pause to listen: wind in the upper branches, birds singing near and far, squirrels dropping snow as they leap from tree to tree. Breathe deep and use all your senses to take in what is around you. Feel your body relax, your mind quiet, and your heart open to the pace of this season.
2. Celebrate the light by honouring those who bring light to the darkness.
Donate to or volunteer with a local charity bringing light to your community – food banks, prison reformers, services for people fleeing violence, anti human trafficking organizations – agencies creating hope in the darkest parts of people’s lives. Google any of the services above + your city to find an agency near you.
3. Allow fire to remind you of the healing warmth of the returning sun
Many traditions burn a variation of a yule log at the solstice – ashes from the single log burned were used in rituals, formed into protective charms, scattered on fields to promote growth in the spring, and even thrown in wells for purification.
I like to add fire to my solstice practices by burning candles, lighting a backyard campfire, or visiting my parents to read by their beautiful log-burning fireplace. Hot beverages like warming tea, hot apple cider or mulled wine also warm from the inside out – I always appreciate them more when it’s cold outside, so drinking them makes me grateful for the cold and dark!
4. Rest and Reflect
Take time to reflect on what is bringing light into your life, and how to make it brighter; what feels like darkness, and steps to let it go; and what intentions you’d like to set for this upcoming season. Journal, pull tarot cards, or connect with a friend to share your reflections.
As one of my favourite verses from any religious scripture goes:
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”
Thank you solstice, for reminding us that nothing lasts forever: no matter how dark it feels, the light will always return. Happy Winter Solstice!