Winter Solstice Celebrations
The Winter Solstice celebrations happen every year on the 21st or 22nd of December for those of us in the northern hemisphere. If you are in the southern hemisphere, this same date is your Summer Solstice. (Read about creating a summer solstice ceremony.) The Winter Solstice is the day with the least daylight of all other days of the year. The sun is at its lowest point in the southern sky. The rays of the sun are the faintest and coolest. The earth is tilted in a way that aims her face away from the sun, hiding her under a deep blanket of snow and cold. The word “solstice” comes from the latin words sol (sun) and sistere (stand still) because the sun appears to stand still before it reverses direction and begins its ascent back into the northern sky.
A Fire? Oh Yes! It’s Time!
This is one of my favorite of the solar holidays to celebrate because it is almost always as safe time, even in the driest of climates, to have a fire. Even still, please make sure there are no fire bans in effect for your area and that you have the necessary permits required to light an outdoor bonfire.
Logistics aside, bonfires are my favorite on the winter solstice. I was introduced to this most important of winter solstice traditions at an early age and have fond memories of crisp, dark nights illuminated by firelight. This is a wonderful family or community tradition to start or carry on.
A fire relates to the spiritual meaning of winter solstice as well. This is the day that the sun, symbolic of the light, is reborn. In hunter-gatherer times when so much of our existence relied on the forces of nature, the reemergence of the sun’s life giving force was critical to survival. Now it marks your ability to come out of darkness and into light, moving from ignorance to illumination. By lighting and tending a fire, you are tapping into these powerful mythic forces at a crucial moment in the annual cycle.
Bundle Up. It’s Cold and Dark Outside
Part of the significance of a winter solstice celebration is the light in the darkness, the warmth in the cold. Thus the reason why you should light and watch your ceremonial fire in darkness outside. Given the scant daylight this time of year, this is not too hard to accomplish. It seems impossible to stand or sit around in below freezing temperatures for hours on end, but there is a miraculous force at work. As long as you put on enough warm layers, the heat and light of the fire make the cold incredibly bearable. This is when our appreciation for the power of the element of fire deepens.
If the weather is too stormy or windy outside for a fire, an indoor fire in a fireplace will suffice. Turn off the lights to get the full effect of the solstice’s energy moving in your night.
Offerings to Burn in the Fire
As part of your Winter Solstice Celebration, you can invite your guests to participate by burning something in the fire. The first option is to have paper, pens, string and sticks available. You and your guests can write or draw on the paper what you are releasing that no longer serves you and then wrap the paper around a stick using the string. This bundle can then be placed in the fire as a symbol of the transmutation underway in your interior.
Another option is to have people bring a gift for the light/fire. This gift can be food, incense, or some other combustable, organic material that is an offering of gratitude for all the gifts in our lives. The offering is not meant to be another thing to go out and buy, but a collection of materials from the woods or yard, the cupboard or closet, that you already have on hand. It can be simple or elaborate. The point is that this gift is meant to unlock your creativity rather than burden you down with another thing to do. If a partially burnt sage smudge is all you can muster, that’s okay. If you find yourself wrapping a collection of holiday cookies and candies in colored tissue paper that’s great too. This is a “come as you are” opportunity to simply share gratitude with each other, the fire and the night.
Gathering of Friends
The holiday season is incredibly conducive to family and community gatherings it seems. Hopefully invitations to Christmas parties will not overwhelm your winter solstice celebration plans. But not to worry, winter solstice celebrations are usually surprisingly well attended. Many appreciate the break from gift shopping and giving as well as from intense jolly-making and chatter.
The winter solstice celebrations outside around a large bonfire lend themselves to quiet hushed voices and moments on end of empty staring into the flames. The simple act of sitting by a fire can erase all the busyness and provide much, much needed rejuvenation.
By gathering your friends to celebrate this humble holiday, you are providing them a chance to connect back into the true spirit of the season. That is the gift of a winter solstice ceremony. Planning a potluck or large meal inside around a table is in line with the energy of the winter solstice. However, the goal is always to get outside around the fire.
Quietude, Prayer and Contemplation
Regardless of if you are able to celebrate the winter solstice by a fire this year or not, you can always connect through quietude, prayer and contemplation. These are qualities of the north in the medicine wheel and the crux of what winter is about. Sure seeds in the ground will spring forth from the earth with the coming of the sun. Nonetheless now is not the time to plant them or pull them up for evaluation. Your ideas and ambitions are below the soil, tucked in by white blankets of snow. You couldn’t dig them up if you wanted. The ground is froze solid for a reason.
Forget ambition. Put away your worries. Let your plans lay and rest. Allow the opening of the void of night to find your interior. Find space between your thoughts. Practice mindfulness.
My article on The Seriousness of Solitude can help you with your personal and private winter solstice celebrations.
Sources of Light
Candles, Christmas lights, and the Menorah all embody the spirit of bringing light back into the darkness, fostering hope where there is despair. The twinkle of lights enchants us all, adult and child alike.This is the season when the divine child, the savior, of a number of traditions is born. The arrival of the holy baby reminds us of the new spark deep within that begins on this day.
So, in this busy holiday season I wish you wonder and hope, quiet and comfort. May your days be merry and bright. And may you remember the infinite light of your divine essence once again.
Prayers for the Season
Here are excerpts of some beautiful prayers to recite around the fire:
“May the blessings of light be on you, light without and light within. May the blessed sunshine shine on you and warm your heart till it glows like a great peat fire, so that the stranger may come and warm himself at it, and also a friend. And may the light shine out of the two eyes of you, like a candle set in the two windows of a house, bidding the wanderer come out of the storm.” – Traditional Irish Blessing
“It is our quiet time.
We do not speak because the voices are within us.
it is our quiet time.
We do not dance, because the earth is all within us.
It is our quiet time.
We rest with all of nature.”
– Nancy Wood
About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner and Ordained Minister, plans and facilitates ceremonies of all types from house blessings to weddings to life transitions. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and vast knowledge about the natural world, Stacey brings a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective to every ceremony she conducts. Every ceremony is custom-built and includes the valuable ideas and input from those she works on behalf of. Stacey can travel to you to conduct the ceremony in person, or she can meet with you by phone or Skype to work together and help you plan your own ceremony.
To Learn More About Stacey Couch’s Ceremonial Services Visit:
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About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch is a Spiritual Teacher who specializes in shamanism, inter-spirituality, archetypes, and symbolism. She supports soul pioneers - those of you who are learning as you go along the spiritual path. She works with beginner and life-long spiritual seekers. Through working with Stacey, lost seekers find their way home and professional spiritual guides receive mentorship. Stacey empowers people with the ability to explore their purpose and calling. Wisdom found in story, mysticism, and nature provide guidance and healing in her work. She is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.