A few nights ago I got together with friends for an early Winter Solstice celebration. Organised by a wonderful friend, it was all kinds of lovely. Gathering with women always is anyway, isn’t it. And it was especially lovely because I learned such a lot from them all.
Celebrating the Winter Solstice is, in our family, quite a recent thing. Maybe a handful of years old. And I’m aware that we haven’t quite worked out our approach to it yet. As with many family traditions, it’s taking a while to evolve and embed itself in our rhythms, so I was really glad to hear from others how they’re observing it.
Christmas is such a wonderful time, particularly with two small excited boys around. So much joy surrounds it. I do my best to soak it up fully. And something I’m aware of is that the excitement and the joy, wonderful as they are, can sometimes unbalance us. See the child who anticipates something so much that they unravel when it finally arrives (both of mine). Or the mother (me) who looks forward to Christmas so much and runs around doing all the things and gets sick on 23rd December because she forgot to ground and resource herself. I think that’s why, when I learned about the Winter Solstice a few years ago I felt drawn to bringing something of it’s stillness into our festive time.
Gathering with friends to sit and be and share and feast and light candles was so good and gave me so much inspiration. I took on some of those ideas, added my own and here’s what we’re up to this Winter Solstice at home:
Embracing the dark
One particular friend inspired me here. In her home she’s found a way to ground herself in this time of year and connect with our natural urge to hibernate and it’s simply been by keeping the lights off.
Drawing on her inspiration, all this week (and particularly on the Solstice itself) we’ll spend a bit of extra time with the darkness. We’ll go downstairs as usual, but rather than switching on all the lights as we would usually, we’ll just have the gentle glow of the tree lights and a candle on the breakfast table while we wait for the sun to rise and peek through the open curtains at us.
I found this idea almost mind-blowing in it’s simplicity and it really speaks to me because while we celebrate the return of the light at the Solstice, there’s the other side to it. On the shortest day there is more darkness than light. Sometimes we need to acknowledge the dark and sit in it awhile so we can truly feel the light when it comes.
We’ve started the day like this for the past few days and it’s been so peaceful. The usual morning routine has slowed right down (it helps that school has finished already for us) and I’ve found myself with more headspace during that darker hour. I’ve even taken a few moments to do some yoga. Something I’ve been trying to embed as a routine unsuccessfully for ages. The boys have seemingly not noticed, though they’ve played more calmly and had more patience for the day getting going. A few times I’ve noticed them gazing out of the window waiting for the sun. Simply, I think, because they’ve had the opportunity to notice it.
The same will apply to the evening tomorrow. Lights off, candles lit. Really this should be a daily thing anyway. I’m very aware that having all the lights on and staring at my phone screen stops the animal part of my brain telling me it’s time to sleep. But you know how it is, always so much to do! Tomorrow though. Tomorrow I will turn off the lights.
Celebrating with fire
Solstice traditions all over the world involve fire as a celebration of the return of the light. I’d love for that to mean a fire in the woods to cook over and hang out with friends. Bliss. But that might not always fit in with the busyness of the run up to Christmas hey. And I’ve learnt about not making family traditions so big that you can’t stick with them! So I’m just going with fire as a broader idea, in whatever form works. It’ll be easy to convince my children. They love a fire to snuggle beside.
This year we might very well be in the woods with some friends because we somehow have this delicious stretch of a few days without too many demands. Not sure it’s ever happened quite like this before. Another year it might simply be a fire lit at home. Extra candles on the dinner table or the mantle.
Pagans called this time of year Yule and believed the wheel of the year stopped turning for 5 days from the Solstice to the 25th. During that time the dark was acknowledged, the seed of the light was sown and on the 25th the sun was reborn. They would burn a yule log as a symbol of the returning light. I was thinking of making something like this below with the boys to have on our Christmas table. Our spin on a yule log. We sure do love to mix our festivals around here!
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this yourself, but for me the dark days of Winter are the time I do a lot of personal reflection. At least, if I’m paying attention I do. It’s easy to be distracted, isn’t it.
I know I’ve written in this space before about my love of the new page of the new year. After all, I’m a coach by profession. The fresh whoosh of energy of that time is lovely, but there’s work to be done first and now is the time. Those acres of notes from all the pages of this year need to be checked in with before we turn to the next one.
So I’ve got a date with an enormous cup of tea and a journal in front of the fire tomorrow evening. Looking at the light and the dark of the year. Going inside and creating the space for whatever comes out. I rarely give myself the gift of this sort of reflective time these days, so it’ll be lovely.
If you really want to go to town, hold your own Phoenix Ceremony: by the light of your fire, note down anything you now want to let go of and release. Write down as much as you need to. On one piece or several slips of paper. When you’re done, feed them to the fire, watch them go up in smoke. Tell them you release them and let them go. Powerful alone and particularly beautiful with a few of your dearest friends.
A great resource for unravelling the year is a free ecourse by that exact name, offered by the wonderful Susannah Conway. You can find and download that on her beautiful site here.
A day of calm, dark and fire is sounding just right to me. Do you celebrate it? I’d love to know what you and your family do.
Solstice blessings to you, whatever you’re up to x