Discovering the ritual celebrations that connect us to nature’s cycles.
When my children were much smaller than they are now (and they’re still pretty small) I wanted to introduce a celebration that didn’t involve the story of Santa, chimneys, and presents. Something that felt more connected to the season, to nature, and to the natural cycles of the Earth. I came across a Winter Solstice book at the Goodwill and was thrilled to find stories from all over the world celebrating the return of the light. (I’ve included a book list at the end of this post.)
Winter Solstice, Yule, Midwinter are the names given to the pre-Christian/Pagan celebration occurring on the longest night/shortest day of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, on or around December 21st the sun reaches its lowest point on the horizon, marking the shortest daylight hours and the beginning of the Winter season. This night heralds the turning point at which the days will grow longer and the light will slowly begin it’s return. For more than 5,000 years cultures from all around the world have honored the Winter Solstice because it’s a new beginning, a turning point—a time for celebrations of light in the deep dark of Winter.
How we celebrate the Solstice—a time of pause and renewal.
With our first book in hand we began creating our new Solstice traditions. I love this moment of quiet stillness just a few days before the more extroverted celebration of Christmas takes place (another story of the return of the light!). Here’s how our family celebrates:
- Throughout the days leading up to the Solstice we observe and honor the natural world. We gather beautiful evergreen branches and berries to bring in our home like the ancient Romans used to do, as symbols of life. We string popcorn and cranberries, and make pine cone bird feeders with nut butter and seeds to offer the birds and squirrels.
- During the day, on the eve of Winter Solstice, the kids choose a piece of wood that will be our Yule log (another ancient custom). Using twine we wrap the log and then tuck in our evergreen branches, rosemary sprigs, berries, and winter flowers that we’ve gathered on our nature walk.
- When it grows dark we light our home with candles and build a cozy fire in the wood stove. We decorate our table for a candle lit dinner. We pile on the couch and read our Solstice stories. When our simple dinner, usually a delicious winter soup or stew, is ready we gather at the table. The kids find their gifts of new, mama-made flannel pajamas and a winter book on their plates. The candle light brings us close together and our voices hushed.
- After dinner, the kids put on their new pajamas and we gather around the fire. We take small pieces of paper and either write or draw; something we are ready to let go of, something we would like to bring in, something we are thankful for, something we are celebrating, and something we have learned. We tuck our pieces of paper under the twine on our Yule log, say a little blessing, and place our log in the fire. We watch it burn for a while in the quiet.
- We finish our evening in candle light. We drink hot chocolate and eat popcorn and oranges (representing the sun) and read our new winter book.
Our ritual evolves with simplicity and authenticity, deepening each year.
We enjoy adding new pieces of tradition to our Winter Solstice ritual each year. Our celebration has grown and deepened as the kids have gotten older. I love that we have found celebrations that have meaning for us over the years to mark this magical time of year.
- Advent :: a beautiful tradition leftover from my Catholic upbringing and now a part of my kids’ Waldorf traditions
- Winter Solstice :: the ancient honoring of the moment the “sun stands still,” a moment of transition and renewal
- Christmas :: another story of the return of the light and my children’s favorite immortal, magical being, Santa Claus
Want to learn more about Winter Solstice and create your own ritual?
Here are some great books for the whole family: