When it’s icy cold, like it’s been the last few days, and I’m wrapped in my coat/sleeping bag, I try to imagine summer and wearing a tank top outside and find I can’t. it feels like that was never really real, and it never will be. But of course, it is. The year turns over and over again.
The solstice is an important reminder of that cycle; though things are dark now, they are getting imperceptibly brighter, by a minute or two a day, until suddenly it's light out at nine o’clock. And then we count backwards again, as we people have since ancient times.
The winter solstice is celebrated around the world, from the ancient Dongzhi festival in China which is rooted in the balancing concept of yin and yang, darkness and light, to Yalda in Iran, which celebrates the victory of light over darkness. Common throughout many solstice celebrations is light and fire. In some traditions, fires are lit and sat with all night — it’s where the yule log comes from (and presumably that confounding cake, bouche de noel).
Solstice literally means that the sun stands still, as it seems to halt its journey before turning back around again. Of course, we’re the ones that are making the journey, and it never stops.
And even the though the 22nd is the first day of winter, it’s also the first day of travel towards summer. And, on the other end of the world, it starts the journey back to winter and dark.
So how do to begin building a personal tradition? For me, it’s about finding the common threads through the world’s shared celebrations.
The word solstice, as discussed earlier, means that the sun stands still. But perhaps we are the ones that require stillness on the solstice. How can we bring stillness to this day, which come at the pinnacle of a hectic season? Disconnecting from devices is a good, if tough, place to begin. Start small. I’m going to try to disconnect after sunset. Another way is to make time for a special meditation, or reflective journaling. Stillness is also something that can be done in a group. Yoga Shunya in Jersey City hosts an annual solstice party that includes an hour of rolling oms — thirty or so people, chanting at their own pace. It’s pretty incredible.
Light and Dark
This is the part of the solstice that stands out the most for me — perhaps because of the echoes in how we celebrate Christmas is this country. Shut off all electric lights, and sit in darkness, or use only candlelight. Sit quietly and set intentions for the coming year. Light a fire. Welcome the sunrise the morning after the solstice.
The fundamental of any celebration! But, unlike how other feasts like Thanksgiving are hectic and stressful, this should be simple and easy. A potluck, if you’re having friends over, or a simple soup or stew with good bread and cheese. And I’m thinking of making mulled wine and gingerbread, two of my favorite treats this time of year.
This day had such importance for humans throughout history because for most of our history we were much more connected to nature. The coming of summer didn’t just mean it would be warm and pretty; it was essential for life. It’s cold out, I know, but most years we can manage a few minutes outside. Maybe you light a bonfire, find a favorite constellation in the dark sky, or feed the birds.
I hope you got some good ideas to begin your own solstice traditions. And please share anything you plan to do here in the comments.