So how will you be celebrating? There are less than three weeks left before Yule (the Winter Solstice)! This is going out a week early because for many of us, this is a Sabbat that takes a little more preparation (and if you are buying gifts, the HP Gift List here might help). Whether that’s due to cultural inertia, or kid’s expectations, the importance of Stars and this Sabbat, or whatever, it’s a big deal in our family. We’ve already started the Solstice doors and decorating. If you have been doing your Winter Solstice traditions for years, if you are just starting your family and are currently building the traditions which will bring the Universe to your kids, or anything in between, I hope that the traditions and practices here are found to be useful, inspiring, or just comforting.
For me, this Sabbat was my gateway – the first holiday I added to my life after leaving all Catholic holidays behind as insignificant to our human future. I started watching our Sun rise on the Winter Solstice – a tradition linking me to millions of Ancestors across the globe for thousands of years. I found out how real, powerful, and universal this holiday is in one way or another, and how natural it was for this season to capture our human attention. The rest of the Wheel followed easily from there.
This year, the December Solstice (Winter in the Northern Hemisphere, Summer in the South) happens on December 21st. The precise date and time for all the Sabbats can be found at archaeoastronomy.com. In our family, we’ll sometimes celebrate the morning after the longest night, which is not always the same as the shortest day. The longest night is the night before the Winter Solstice if the moment of the Solstice happens prior to noon, and is the night following the Winter Solstice day if the moment of the Solstice happens after noon. This year it is 11:28 EST, so the shortest night is the evening of the 20th. Thus, we’ll be watching the Sun rise and opening presents the morning of the 21st. From then on, each day is longer than the one before it, as we tilt towards the Sun again.
Surprisingly, neither the latest sunrise nor the earliest sunset happen on the Solstice! As with many things science shows us, it’s more complicated than one might first guess. It varies by latitude, but in general, for those of us at Northern latitudes, the earliest sunset happens about a couple weeks before the Solstice, while latest sunrise happens about a couple weeks after the Solstice.
“As I stand here on this celebration of Yule, the sacred wheel of the year has turned once again and it is now midwinter. As my forebears did, I do now, and so may my descendants do in time to come. It is the Solstice, the longest night and shortest day. Today I celebrate the return of the Sun. Since the summer, it has gradually become colder and darker, but from this time forwards, the days shall get longer and lighter and warmer again. The Solar year has run its course and completed its cycle and a new year begins, bringing light, life and hope to the earth.”
He concludes with this poem:
When the earth is barren, the light is reborn.
When the animals sleep, the light is reborn.
When the leaves have all fallen, the light is reborn.
When the rivers are frozen, the light is reborn.
When the shadows grow long, the light is reborn.
When warmth has fled, the light is reborn.
In the darkest night, the light is reborn.
Glenys Livingstone of PaGaian Cosmology transposes the solstice onto the birth of the universe itself. In her ritual, all lights are extinguished and, after a time in the darkness, a fire is kindled with the following words:
“We recall our Beginnings – the Great Flaring Forth, and our Grandmother Supernova Tiamat – Goddess Mother of our Solar system, of our star the Sun. This is our Cosmic lineage. We are Gift of Tiamat – Goddess Mother supernova. Out of her stardust we are born. Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, phosphorus and trace elements. We are Gift of Tiamat – out of her stardust we are born.”
PaGaian Cosmology Winter Solstice video
Jon Cleland Host of the Naturalistic Paganism Yahoo group celebrates the Solstice with his family, using a theme of stars and supernovae, including opening a Solstice door every day before Yule. The full description can be found here, as well as printable notes to go with the Solstice door candy. These include a Yule log and sunrise viewing:
“A Yule log can be made and burned. This is done by selecting and cutting the log, then taking it inside for decoration. Kids can contribute by helping with the decorations. Some Pagans use the log as a stand for candles, and light the candles (especially for apartment dwellers, or those without a fireplace) on Solstice eve. Others actually burn the log on Solstice eve, lighting it with a small piece of the log from the previous year. More can be found on the web about the tradition of the Yule Log.
“A tradition practiced in my family, but not apparently very widespread, is to get up to welcome the sunrise on the morning of the Winter Solstice. This is often done from a location where the horizon can be seen, such as the shore of Lake Huron (note that it has to be a Western or Northern shore to see the Sun rise in the Southeast). The weather is often cloudy, so knowing the exact minute of the sunrise is important. A short ritual can be done to greet the rising sun, and poems or readings can be read. Long rituals are not recommended due to the cold temperatures usually seen on the morning of Solstice (not to mention that long rituals aren’t fun for kids). After returning from that, the stockings are found to be filled, and presents appear. In the past they appeared under the Yule/Solstice tree, this year they appeared in the center of our stone circle outside.”
For Áine Órga of HeartStory.org, the Winter Solstice celebration begins on the night before the solstice itself. She performs a ritual in celebration of the dark, still moment of the solstice, and looks towards the returning light of the dawn the following morning. On the morning of the solstice itself, she sit with the sunrise, feeling the moment of the shortest day:
“The dawn chorus can be cacophonous during the summer, but in winter all is still at dawn. We usually have a more muted chorus in the half-hour or so before the sun rises, but as the sun lifts its head above the horizon, a hush falls over the landscape.”
This liminal period continues for Áine to the January 1st or 6th January (traditionally the end of Christmas in Ireland) and includes Christmas.
Áine Órga’s Winter Solstice
Oh Darkest Night (tune: O Holy Night)
Oh darkest night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dawning new year.
Here in the dark, for sun and warmth we’re pining
But we are cheered by our friends and family here.
The cold bright stars: a trillion worlds above us
As here on Earth we gather loved ones near.
Raise up your eyes, and see the Cosmos’ wonder
Oh Night sublime
Oh night, oh darkest night
Oh Night sublime
Oh night, oh night sublime.
John Halstead celebrates the solstice with his wife and children. They sing Paganized carols, act out the story of “The Rebirth of the Sun” by Starhawk, and launch sky lanterns with New Year’s wishes written on them. John shares these thoughts with his family:
“The winter solstice happens in nature around us. But it also happens inside of us, in our souls. It can happen inside of us is summer or winter, spring or fall. In the dark place of our soul, we carry secret wishes, pains, frustrations, loneliness, fears, regrets, worries. Darkness is not something to be afraid of. Sometimes we go to the dark place of our soul, where we can find safety and comfort. In the the dark place in our soul we can find rest and rejuvenation. In the dark place of our soul we can find balance. And when we have rested, and been comforted, and restored, we can return from the dark place in our soul to the world of light and new possibilities.”
For those on the Southern side of our Earth, preparations for Summer Solstice are underway…….
This is an updated version of the yearly Winter Solstice post.
Feel free to share your own naturalistic traditions in the comments below.