Winter solstice, which typically falls on December 21st in the Northern hemisphere, is a time for quiet contemplation and reverence. It is thought to hold powerful energy for regeneration, renewal, and self-reflection.
It’s recognized as the first day of winter, the longest night of the year when many cultures celebrate the sun’s impending triumph over the darkness.
For my family, it’s a time to take a breath, to check ourselves before the joyful chaos of the coming days, and the shift to the new year.
I can't be the only one approaching this holiday season with a mix of excitement, trepidation, anxiety, and exhaustion, can I? This year, above all others, a night of calmness and serenity might be just what we need.
Of course, many of us have spent 2020 trying to escape the discomfort of the quiet moments because we've had far too many of them.
Nights that we'd previously spent with family and friends at baseball games, concerts, restaurants, or our children's extracurricular activities were suddenly spent at home within our safe little bubbles. Holiday celebrations look nothing like they usually do, for most of us. In fact, very little about this year has been even remotely typical.
But we didn't want to admit how different things were, so we curated our quarantine lives - learning how to bake bread, tackling household projects, filling our kids' days with activities so maybe they wouldn't notice what they were missing, proving to everyone in our social media circles that we were not only doing ok but thriving.
Newsflash: Many of us weren't, not really.
On the darker side, some of us ate too much, drank too much, did anything we could to escape our anxiety and fear. We were constantly running away from ourselves, and yet when we stopped, there we were.
Solstice can give us a break from all of that. It's a natural pause button.
In Pagan times, the winter solstice was called Yule and was a celebration of the Goddess (Moon) energy. In ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated at the Feast of Saturnalia, which honored Saturn, the god of agriculture. After Constantine converted to Christianity, many of the customs of Saturnalia (such as the giving of gifts) became Christmas traditions still observed today.
Today, the winter solstice is an opportunity to connect with the natural world, to attune ourselves to the seasons. It represents the death and rebirth of the sun because, after this, the days begin to lengthen and the nights shorten. Darkness transforms into light.
According to Pagan author T. Thorn Coyle, we need to see that light.
“We need to feel that hope remains in the world, even in the face of young children shot dead in a classroom or in a village after drone strikes, even in the face of rising waters and devastated forests. The sun is our symbol of hope. Day and night dance together in the cosmos, just as beauty and fear dance among us every day.” — T Thorn Coyle via Huffpost
Lighting the longest night with fire reminds us that even in the darkness, there is beauty and there is hope.
We’ll celebrate with the lighting of candles throughout the house, with pine branches and holly, with a fire pit in our back yard, if the weather in Northeast Ohio decides to cooperate this year.
We’ll mentally prepare for the rest of the holiday season, acknowledging gratitude for everything we have. This is a symbolic nod to past times when starvation was common in the first months of winter. It’s not something my husband and I have to worry about today, even when money is tight, and it’s important to recognize that.
I’ll make a pot of soup earlier in the day, hearty, warm and nourishing. We could have a little wine, or maybe not, because it isn’t the most important part of our celebration. There will be plenty of time for revelry in the coming days.
The evening’s music will be solemn and peaceful, conducive to contemplation. Electronic devices will not be allowed (aside from the stereo that will play our music), because cell phones and other gadgets are detrimental to achieving a state of serenity. Even the electric lighting, except what’s required for safety (and so we don’t trip over the cats), will be turned off.
Along with practicing gratitude and meditation, I’ll be thinking about the upcoming year. What do I want to accomplish, to achieve? (I will also be reminding myself that my definition of those words has changed significantly throughout my life.)
How do I want to frame my existence? Who do I want to be? How do I choose to represent my best self? Are my actions a reflection of that?
What makes me truly happy, and how can I bring more of that into my life? What makes my loved ones happy, and how can I bring more of that into their lives?
Will I strive to get out of my own head a bit this year, and really hear the people around me? I’m learning so much, but the application of the lessons is still a bit sporadic. I know I can do better, listen better, connect more.
Can I find a way to contribute on a broader level, to my community, to society, without jeopardizing my own sanity?
In our fast-paced world, I crave these quiet moments, and sometimes I need a structure, an excuse, a holiday to tell me it’s ok to take them.
This solstice, I invite you to join me in a moment or two of calm and tranquility. Still your mind. Hear your heart. And know that the light will come again.
Happy Solstice, and may your holidays be filled with peace, joy, and love.
“Solstices — summer or winter — are a chance to still ourselves inside, to behold the glory of the cosmos, and to take a breath with the Sacred. Solstice also gives us the opportunity to ask whether or not we are still on the correct course. We need to ask that in these times, both personally and collectively.” — T. Thorn Coyle, via Huffpost