The Winter Solstice (this Saturday, December 21st) is a highly sacred time. Celebrated for thousands of years, it is the point where the sun is at its furthest from the Northern Hemisphere, and signals the beginning of our journey of tilting toward the light again. It’s the night we celebrate literally leaning into the light together!
From the ancient Egyptians to the Celtic Druids, folks would bring evergreen boughs into their homes at this time of the year as a way to honor the sun’s perpetual life-giving forces. Many of our modern Christmas traditions are borrowed from this pagan celebration – including bringing an evergreen tree into the home, burning a Yule log, giving gifts to loved ones, and the general feasting and merry-making that occurs this time of year!
I love Winter Solstice rituals, because this time of year can be dark and difficult for a lot of us. Being apart from our sun creates vitamin-D withdrawals, and can literally make us depressed. The waning daylight affects our circadian rhythms drastically, and our capitalist system definitely doesn’t allow for the hibernation that our bodies naturally crave. It’s all the more important, then, to turn to ritual, community, and self-care to make meaning of it all.
Rituals have come to mean a lot to me this year. I founded the Albuquerque Moon Circle, where I gather with around 10 women for space-holding and ceremony every month under the full moon. This provides the deep spiritual community I crave, as well as the opportunity to create and perform ritual on a regular basis. Interested in creating your own moon circle? Sign up for my free webinar here!
Ritual can be anything that is symbolic for you. It is a time to create meaning, channel dynamic energy, and make external our internal feelings and emotions in a witnessing community. Performing ritual alone can be meaningful – lighting candles before your meditation. But performing ritual with others is a very profound experience. Being witnessed and witnessing others is a reciprocal spiritual relationship – deeply healing and eye-opening.
Create your own Winter Solstice ritual! Below, I share some aspects of the one that I created for my moon circle, but feel free to mix it up and incorporate whatever feels necessary in your bones. Here are 6 elements to get you started, the rest is up to you! Remember to not take yourself too seriously – ritual is sacred, yes, but it can also be fun. The most important thing is the meaning you bring to it. There is no wrong way, so long as your intentions are pure.
1. Journal & Sharing Prompts
In a culture obsessed with looking to the future and setting resolutions for the upcoming New Year, the Winter Solstice can be a wonderful time for reflecting on the past year. After all, if we don’t learn from our past, we will repeat its mistakes in the future. And if we don’t give thanks for a year of blessings, are we really opening the door for more? Last year, I created these journal prompts for the Winter Solstice. If you completed them then, take a look back at your responses. Now complete it again for 2019! There are tons of other great journal prompt ideas out there on the interwebs for this reflection, and if prompts aren’t your thing, just do some free journal writing. Light a candle, cozy up with a cup of tea, and write about all you learned and are grateful for this year.
Journal prompts are a great way to dive inward and learn more about the past year and the year you hope to have ahead. Sharing prompts, on the other hand, are sacred questions you will ask if you are performing ritual with a community. I recommend creating space for a solo and group Winter Solstice ritual! Gather up some friends at your home, and ask them to celebrate this sacred night with you. Sit in a circle and explain that whomever is sharing has the floor and is not to be interrupted with cross-talk. If its helpful, you can pass a talking stick to symbolize the power of speech as it is passed from one participant to the next. Reflect on what you want your sharing questions to be for your Winter Solstice ritual. They could be, “What are you most grateful for from the past year?” or “What was your darkest moment of 2019?”. The simpler the better. I like having three.
2. Use the Element of Fire
Fire symbolizes so much this time of year – life, warmth, the sun, our life force energy, our Spirit, manifesting energy. We use it to prepare our food, warm our houses, and draw community together by the hearth. In ritual, we can use it to burn words we wish to release, herbs for cleansing and purifying, or to symbolize our intentions. For the Solstice ritual, consider using it as a symbol of the sun. In our ritual, we lit a large candle in the center and each held red taper candles. We took turns lighting each other’s candles and blowing out our own candles, depending on the sharing question. Using red candles symbolizes female energy, fertility, life force. But other symbolic colors used this time of year include green, white, gold and silver.
You could ask questions about the light – the high point of the year, the hopes for the new year – while the candles are lit, and ask questions about the darkness – the low point of the past year – once the candles are extinguished. Set the stage, and explain that once the candles are blown out in unison, a couple of minutes of silence will follow for reflection on the darkness.
Light and dark are so interesting, I find feelings of anxiety and calm come up for me as I play with these elements, and the darkness is ripe with metaphor and mystery from the shadow realms. Pay attention to what they bring up in you.
If you’re having a private ritual, simply light some candles or the fireplace before you begin. Gaze into the fire and consider your ancestors who relied on the fire for their very lives. Send them love and gratitude, and feel your connection to them and to all beings everywhere.
3. Ring Bells
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way! Bells are a beautiful way to audibly symbolize the beginning or end of a ritual. You can use anything – Tibetan bowls, meditation bells, a gong, jingle bells, chimes – whatever you may have around the house. If doing a solo ritual, simply ring one before and after your journaling ritual. Use it as a meditation anchor, and focus on your awareness of the sound. In group ritual, ask everyone to bring a bell to the circle and ring them together at the end of your meditation. You can explain that you are literally ringing in the New Year together, and that the bells are to call forth your guides, your bright and well ancestors, Earth spirits, or whatever symbol is meaningful for you! Or simply ring forth the blessings and intentions for 2020.
4. Honor Plants & Herbs
Incorporate plants into your ritual to bring a grounding energy. The ancient Celts used plants at the solstice to symbolize the transition from light to darkness. The dark Holly King, disguised as a wren, and his twin, the light Oak King, disguised as a robin, fight for dominance at each Solstice. Holly symbolized darkness and inner wisdom, and Oak symbolizes light and life. Mistletoe symbolized eternal life, as it was a white berry blooming in the dead of winter. Evergreen boughs are always fragrant, beautiful, and symbolic of everlasting life, as well.
If you celebrate Christmas, remember that the three wise men brought the Christ child frankincense and myrrh – symbols of burial preparation for his future crucifixion and conquering of death. Burn some incense or rub essential oils on your pulse points. Reflect on life and death, light and dark, and this sacred paradox.
In the Southwest U.S. where I live, sweet-smelling piñon wood is burned in the wintertime and can be smelled all across my city. This tree is sacred to some local tribes, and many burn it as incense. You can of course also burn a special type of wood or herb that has another meaning for you or your people!
5. Share Food & Drink with Friends
Don’t forget to feast! Even if they’re not into the sharing questions or more ritualistic aspects of the Solstice celebration, everyone loves to eat, drink and be merry! Have a potluck or get fancy with a multi-course meal. You can share cups of cheer by mulling wine or cider on the stove, or cook the food of your ancestors as an offering to them. Commit to making things as complicated or simple as you have the energetic capacity for. People will be thrilled just to be invited into your home on this sacred night. If you’re particularly vulnerable about asking folks to perform ritual with you, keep it low-key. Make it a Solstice Dinner Party, light a few candles, decorate your table with evergreen boughs, and perhaps ask the table to share one thing they are releasing from the past year and one thing they are hoping to manifest in the new year! For an easy ritual everyone loves, write down one thing you are releasing from the past year and burn it in the fireplace together.
6. Speak Your Prayers & Intentions Aloud
Even if you’re performing ritual solo, make a point to speak your prayers and intentions out loud. You can address them to the tree in your backyard, the moon or stars, a bird, God, your ancestors, whomever! I know it may feel a bit silly at first if this isn’t your usual thing, but give it a chance. I went for months without really praying, and one evening as I sat next to the cottonwood in my yard, the words just came flooding out of me. You can start by saying, “All I hope for next year is…” and “My intention for this Solstice night is…”
There is great power in hearing our own voice express our deep desires. Intention is a powerful thing – it has magic in it! Once we hear our intentions aloud, we consciously or unconsciously go to work to make them a reality. Sometimes we might not even know what they are until we give them a voice.
If practicing ritual in community, be courageous in your vulnerability and share your deep desires for 2020. Not only will you feel witnessed and connected to those around you, but you will inevitably be held accountable to making your dreams a reality. Sit back and watch how the Universe responds!
Beyond these 6 elements, make your Winter Solstice Ritual your own. Do some candlelit yoga, have a dance party, snuggle up on the couch with your partner, meditate, cook a warm and nourishing meal for yourself, visit family. Start your own tradition for this night. This year, I will be doing my solo ritual at home while my hubby is at work. But I am thinking I would like to start a Solistice Dinner Party group ritual next year. I know asking your friends and family to join in ceremony with you can be the most vulnerable thing. But I promise, more often than not, people want to be invited it, want to be shown the way, and need to witness others performing ceremony in order to feel safe taking part in it themselves. Ritual can be very scary, loaded, and taboo in our culture. Let’s break the stigma together! We all need spaces to let down our guard and make meaning of being human. That’s what ritual is.
I’d love to hear in the comments below, Dear Ones: Do you have Solstice traditions? What are you planning to do this year? What does just reflecting on creating ritual bring up for you? Wishing you all a sacred and peaceful Winter Solstice this Saturday!