Close your eyes and picture a winter night: a deep, dusky blue sky dotted with stars, snow falling softly on the trees, and a resounding sense of peace, calm, and quiet. Take a deep breath in and out, finding that stillness within yourself.
The winter solstice is the perfect time to center yourself, to reflect on the past year and get ready for what’s to come. It’s the official signifier of the change of seasons, officially turning the page from autumn’s harvest to winter’s rest and solitude.
The History of the Winter Solstice
The solstice happens twice a year: summer and winter. It occurs when the sun hits its highest or lowest place in the sky. During the summer solstice, which occurs in June, we enjoy more daylight and it’s noted as the longest day of the year. In December, the winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night; it typically takes place between December 20-23. The solstices are bookended by equinoxes, which happen in fall and spring.
The solstice has been marked and honored for thousands of years, dating as far back as the Stone Age. For many early civilizations, the solstice gave them insight into the changing of seasons; they could prepare for the winter or celebrate the return of summer and its bounty. Some cultures celebrated with a mid-winter feast or festival, like the Romans with their Saturnalia feast, while others considered the winter solstice the beginning of a new year. The Incas gave thanks to their gods with gifts and sacrifices. In the Scandinavian countries, the solstice marked the beginning of their Yule and St. Lucia’s celebration, which gave birth to the Yule log tradition many of us still incorporate into our holiday season today!
How to Celebrate the Winter Solstice
It’s all about finding a ritual that works for you and speaks to your spirit, then making it part of your winter traditions to honor the change in seasons and the shift from light to dark and back again.
- Light a candle. Cast a warm glow about the room and spend the longest night of the year by candlelight. You can channel your ancestors or simply enjoy the peace and calm created by a flickering candle flame.
- Burn your Yule log. If you bring out the traditional Yule log year after year, now’s the time to light it!
- Invite friends and family over for a feast. You don’t need to throw a giant bash and cover the table in delicacies, but enjoying a meal with the people you love most is a wonderful way to honor the winter solstice and its traditions.
- Set intentions for the new year. Because the winter solstice marks the change of seasons, reflecting on your year and acknowledging the lessons you learned, then setting intentions for what you’d like to accomplish or who you’d like to be in the year to come feels natural this time of year. Carve out 30 minutes of quiet time, light a candle, and fill a journal or make a list of your biggest learnings from 2022 and your top 5 intentions for 2023.
- Go for a winter wander. Put on your coat, slip into your boots, and go outside! Gather your family and go for a walk through the neighborhood, sit in the backyard, or drive to a local park and mark the longest night of the year by gazing up at the stars. If you have the space to safely light a bonfire, you can enjoy the winter air while staying cozy warm.
- Let go of what’s holding you back. Write down what you feel is dragging you down or limiting your potential, then symbolically “let go” of those feelings by burning them (safely) in the fireplace or a bonfire.