What and when is winter solstice?
December is a month filled with many magical happenings, but aside from the more commonly celebrated holidays, winter solstice marks a special day for many reasons.
Winter solstice, also known as Midwinter, Yule and the Longest Night, is a yearly occurring astronomical event, happening this year on December 21st, where the Earth is titled on its axis the furthest away from the sun, therefore allowing for the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.
Winter solstice is originally derived from Latin meaning “sun stands still” because on this day at the end of December, the sun has reached its lowest possible arc in the sky, giving the illusion that it is both rising and setting from the same place, giving the appearance that the Sun’s declination “stands still”.
But aside from the astronomical implications, winter solstice has clearly been a significant day for other reasons, celebrated by the ancients from land to land with notable and vast monuments commemorating it; from Newgrange in the Irish countryside, places in Peru, Egypt, Machu Picchu and many others, constructs were built to align with the unique Winter Solstice shadow markings, where shadows are cast longer than any other day in the year.
What does the winter solstice mean spiritually?
Although many of us are familiar with the fact that winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), winter solstice is also seen by many to hold very spiritual attributes as well.
In Pagan culture winter solstice was known as Yule and was a celebration of the moon and the return of the sun. In a sense the moon giving birth to the “return of the sun” or the return of the light. It was viewed as time of the year to hold hope, and to have perseverance in getting through the dark days while keeping a “bright” mindset that the light would return. This can be viewed as a spiritual metaphor for life or our own development as individuals. In life we are often faced with tough times or difficult decisions which can feel overbearing, but the winter solstice is a day to remember that no matter what, one way or another, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light will shine once again. It is also a time to remind us of the natural cycles in nature, which we may start to notice in our own lives. We have all experienced times of lightness and abundance in contrast to times of heaviness and hardship, or “dark times”. The world is always changing, and always moving and we can use the winter solstice as an outward expression in nature to express themes we experience internally as individuals as well as in society at large.
How can you celebrate this winter solstice?
If we take the cyclical astronomical occurrence of winter solstice as symbolism for internal transformation, we can see this day as an opportunity to reflect on our own inner struggles or “darkness” and the rewards which are reaped when we are able to overcome hardship or challenges and reach new levels of inner peace, strength and acceptance, only to begin a new chapter, with more lightness in being.
Winter solstice is therefore a great time to be quiet with one’s self, and to let go of the past hardships in making space for new beginnings. This can also be used as a time to further reflect on what goals and intentions we wish to make for the coming “new year”. It is not a time for outward and abundant energy, but rather a time of internal reflection, contemplation and a seeking towards inner calm and peace. It is a time for manifesting slowness and in that new space allowing for an inner vision that sees outdated and old energies or patterns that are ready to be left in the dust. Common rituals include various meditations which can help cultivate the necessary quietude for such inner contemplations and below we have listed a few of our favorites for this special day of observance on winter solstice.
4 rituals for the winter solstice
1. Honor the Cardinal Directions
Since winter solstice is much about reflecting where we have come from this last year, to make space for manifesting our intentions for the new year, a powerful practice in symbolism is to physically acknowledge the literal cardinal direction and being present for a moment with each one. As part of a winter solstice ritual one could take a piece of paper and draw the actual directions on it and place the paper on the ground. Sit in the center and take a moment of meditation to mentally connect with each cardinal spirit, or energy, starting with East (which represents spring and the start of the spiritual new year, then onwards to South (representing summer). next to the West (representing autumn) and ending finally with North, (the direction of winter where we are now, and the final season of the spiritual year).
2. Pay reverence to the elements
Another winter solstice ritual would be to gather representations of the 4 elements to place on an alter in dedication for a meditation practice. Some dirt or soil could represent earth, a lit candle for fire, a special vessel filled for water, and a burning incense stick or smudge stick for air. Place the elements on an alter or simply in front of you during a simple meditation and pay reverence to the spirit in each element and try to make a personal connection with each one as a way to honor this years winter solstice.
3. Take a walk in nature
For a winter solstice ritual that gets you out of the house and actually enjoy what few hours of sunlight we have at this time of year, we recommend a walking meditation outdoors, ideally in a natural setting. Take a break from the hustle and bustle of urban life and venture outside to one of your favorite nature spots. Before getting started though, be sure to turn your phone off to silent or airplane mode, so that you aren't interrupted. This will allow you to truly disconnect with "everyday" life and be more fully engaged in the activity. Walk slowly and with intention, being mindful of your surroundings and allowing thoughts to drift in and out of your awareness like gentle rolling waves. Pay special attention to where your feet meet the ground at each step, acknowledging the points of contact with the earth. If possible, imagine rooting your energy down into the earth through your feet while simultaneously extending your spine more and more upwards with the crown energy of your head gently expanding towards the sky and trees above you. Let time slip away and feel your place in the universe as one element of a single organism.
4. Letting go bonfire
As a final winter solstice ritual inspiration, why not set up a small bonfire (in a safe and appropriate area of course) with friends and loved ones to connect with the sun energy. Celebrate the approaching New Year by using the fire element to symbolize the ushering in of light on this day of the longest hours of darkness. As an added element why not write down on a small piece of paper anything form the last year you want to and are ready to let go of, to make space and call in abundance for the new year ahead. Use this ritual as a way to manifest hope in working towards a vision for the future, even during this cyclical time of darkness.
This article was written by Molly McDonnell, AVMM’s owner and founder.