Winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun is at its lowest arc in the sky. The word solstice is derived from the Latin word solstitium—sol meaning sun and –stitium meaning stoppage. One ancient definition of solstice is “standing still sun.” Because the earth is tilted on its axis, the northern hemisphere leans farthest away from the sun during the winter solstice (on December 21 or 22), resulting in a long, dark night.
The winter solstice has carried strong symbolism for many, many years. Some refer to solstice as the rebirth of the sun—and not coincidentally Christmas celebrates the birth of the Son. Ancient cultures feared the light of the sun would not return unless they performed vigils and rituals on the solstice.
Solstice can be a magical, contemplative time—a night of spiritual reconnection and ritual. While solstice may not have gained the notoriety of Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanza, many people celebrate it as a deeply meaningful holiday—a time to celebrate renewal, rebirth, and gratitude for the coming light.
There is no right or wrong way to celebrate winter solstice. Symbolically, the solstice is a time of turning inward, into the darkness, into the depths of the unknown. It’s a time of tuning into a deep sense of intuition—trusting your inner voice. In a sense, it is a time of feeling your way in the dark when you cannot see where you are going. Many people like to use the solstice as a time of deep meditation—to reflect on what has been and what will be.
There are many ways to celebrate the significance of winter solstice:
Embrace the darkness. Make the solstice an evening of ritual. As the sun sets, turn off all lights and electronic devices. Light several candles and spend the evening reflecting on the dark and light. Use the darkness to help you turn inward and tune into that quiet, internal voice. Meditate on gratitude for the many gifts in your life. Enjoy the opportunity for quiet contemplation and set an intention for the coming year. Invite the impending light into your heart and vow to live joyfully and light-heartedly.
Hold a ritual for letting go. “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” Some people celebrate solstice by chasing away the darkness. Gather around a large outdoor bonfire and celebrate the return of light. Write down anything you may want to let go of and toss it into the fire. Bask in the warm glow of the fire as you welcome a new beginning.
Get festive. Solstice doesn’t have to be a somber, meditative experience—it can be joyful and lighthearted. Decorate your home with the seasonal gifts of nature such as holly, fir branches, mistletoe, and pine cones. Light a Yule log in the fireplace and gather friends and family for a festive evening of food and drink. You may even encourage costumes—sunbeams and stars are a popular theme.
However you choose to celebrate solstice, take a moment to offer up gratitude for the gifts in your life. Let there be light.