The Winter Solstice and Yule

Of the eight seasonal points on the wheel of the year, the solstices are the best known. In summer, we are celebrating the longest day, the most light, the abundance that summer brings and the joy of being warm, nourished and free. On the winter solstice, coming up soon on the 21st December, the atmosphere is very different.

This is the shortest day. Or the longest night, depending on which way you look at it. In the Arctic, the sun will not rise at all — it’s a day made utterly of night.

Why celebrate such a cold, dark time? Well firstly, this is a moment of hope. From this day forward, light and warmth are increasing. Winter solstice welcomes back the sun and for this reason has strong associations with themes of a turning wheel, and of birth/rebirth. Pagans and folks following goddess-centered traditions talk of the goddess as a mother, ‘giving birth’ to the sun.

Winter is a season for introspection. It’s cold outside, nature appears to be at a standstill, and with so little daylight, energy is focused inwards. Tying in with the ‘new year’ season, this is a time of year for returning to ourselves. To our hopes and dreams. We reflect on the year that’s almost over and think ahead to the next. Though things seem ‘dead’ on the surface of the earth, life is continuing, seeds are sending down roots and nature is preparing itself to burst into life again in spring. For us too, even though this time of year is associated with stillness, a lack of motivation, perhaps also seasonal depression, growth is still happening. Beneath the surface, we are quietly preparing for the coming year. Try to go with this process, be with that stillness, consciously turn inwards to meet that subconscious.

As Dr. Judith Rich said in the Huffington Post: “The soul continually calls us to make the journey to the farthest reaches of our own interior, to places the light of awareness has never reached so that we too, might be rewarded with the riches of renewal and restoration. However, to do so, we must be willing shed the skin of the ordinary world in order to enter the darkness.”

On the other hand, elementally we have moved from autumn’s fluid and emotional water energy into the more solid and tangible energy of the earth. This brings a practical aspect to these ‘new year’ musings. It’s good to have hopes and dreams, but the element of the earth asks: what will you do to make these things real? How do these dreams manifest in real life, in the material world? Yes, this is a time for resolutions, but it’s important to ground them in something real, to set out how you will walk your talk.

This is also a time to gather friends together. Where other festivals focus on public gatherings and community ritual, at the winter solstice the focus is cozier, more domestic — more hearth-fire than a bonfire. On the eve of the longest night, it’s important to find warmth, comfort, and joy where you can.

If you’d like to celebrate the winter solstice, here are some suggestions:

  • Hold an intimate fireside gathering with your closest friends. If you have a fire in your home then wonderful, but you could also think about a garden fire, or bringing fire to the center of a table with a candle display.
  • If you have space, you could even burn a Yule log!
  • Exchange gifts.
  • Practice listening. Spend the day in silence, or go outside on solstice night and simply listen to the world. Honor the quietness, the stillness, the darkness of this season.
  • Write your New Year’s resolutions, taking care to include practical descriptions of how you will bring them about.
  • Try this new year tarot spread.
  • Bring the element of earth into your altar using rocks and stones, branches, earth itself.

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