The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. It occurs when the Earth’s axial tilt is farthest from the sun, causing the sun to appear at its lowest point in the sky. Many people across the world celebrate the Winter Solstice.
The Winter Solstice usually takes place around December 21st or 22nd in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, it occurs around June 21st or 22nd. As nature slows down in winter, the solstice becomes a time for personal reflection, rest and looking forward to the gradual increase in light each day.
The shortest day is a good time to recognise that the next festival will be Imbolc, the first sign of new life. Therefore the solstice can be seen as a time for letting go of anything we no longer need. Light a fire (inside or out) and pass round a basket of sticks, to represent something you wish to let go of from the old year. Saying this out loud gives it strength as each person throws their stick in the fire.
Many modern-day celebrations, like Yule, have roots in ancient winter solstice festivities. The Yule log (often a chocolate cake nowadays) was a log from the solstice fire kept from one year to the next and used to light the first fire of the following winter to ensure good fortune.
Traditionally evergreens are brought into the house at the Solstice, especially Yew and Holly. Always remember to cut with respect for the plant and the land and to leave berries for the birds. Another tradition, which is traditional at Christmas but stems from far older ways of celebrating winter solstice, is that of making wheels of evergreens or wreaths, within which you anchor your hopes and dreams for the new cycle. It may take the form of a wreath to hang on the door, or it may be laid horizontally with places for candles. Add sparkly beads to catch the light symbolising the return of light and hold a wish.
Festivals in different religions have celebrations of light – Diwali, Christmas, St Lucia feast. Lighting candles for the ‘Return of the Sun’ is an old tradition at this time, as is making resolutions to begin the new cycle. All sit around a single candle in a large bowl of sand, with all lights off. Each lights a candle and pushes it in the sand, and names their new intention.