Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Winter Solstice

  • I have been doing celebrations at the change of seasons since 1988—twenty years of honoring the cycles of life. Since I’m Santa Claus at heart, it’s no surprise how much I love winter and all the wonderful celebrations from various spiritual traditions that merge into a time of blessings and good humor.

What’s a Solstice?
The word solstice is derived from two Latin words: sol, which means sun and sistere, to stand still. Winter Solstice is one of the two days a year when the Sun stands still. At Summer Solstice, the sun reaches its highest elevation, on or about June 21, our longest day. At Winter Solstice around December 21, the sun is at its lowest height and we experience the longest night of the year. (These dates refer to the solstices in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, the two solstices are exchanged—winter in June, summer in December.) Implied in the solstice standstill is a moment of pause before a significant shift.

Why Celebrate?
Various cultures the world over have celebrated the Winter Solstice for many thousands of years. Winter Solstice observes the beginning of the solar year and rebirth of the sun. Many assume that while the exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown, there is no accident that the ancient Christian Church selected December 25 to celebrate Christmas. (Based on the astronomical data of the time and reports of the Star of David, believed to be the conjunction or coming together of several planets in the sky, Jesus was much more likely born closer to spring, probably in March.) Winter Solstice was already a day of celebration. As Ellen Jackson conjectures in the children’s book,
The Winter Solstice, “It might as well be Christmas, too.” Winter Solstice is much more ancient. It is also known as Yule, and it has many things in common with Christmas, starting with the parallels in the homonyms Sun/Son and the warmth and salvation the birth and rebirth of Light brings to the world.

If Yule captivates you, give yourself a Google little Solstice and check out some of the amazing facts, prayers, meditations, and ceremonies connected with this ancient feast. I won’t focus on them here, because there is a true festival of information right at your fingertips.

I want to do three things in this post: introduce you to one of my favorite solstice myths and walk you through two things I do at every Winter Solstice ceremony that you can do to celebrate the Solstice at home.

Raven Festival
I say often how I find inspiration in many places, and one of my favorite winter myths is from the Alaskan
Inuit. I learned their winter solstice story in an episode of one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Northern Exposure. Picture Marilyn, Dr. Joel Fleischman’s secretary, telling this tale, then later in the episode, seeing the natives of Cicely, Alaska portray it as a play:

A long time ago, the raven looked down from the sky and saw that the people of the world were living in darkness. A ball of light was kept hidden by a selfish old chief. So the raven turned himself into a spruce needle and floated on the river where the chief's daughter came for water. She drank the spruce needle. She became pregnant and gave birth to a boy who was the raven in disguise. The baby cried and cried until the chief gave him the ball of light to play with. As soon as he had the light, the raven turned back into himself. The raven carried the light into the sky. From then on, we no longer lived in darkness.

What captivates me about spirituality is how every “flavor” of it repeats the same universal themes, especially a Light in the sky or from the sky that keeps us out of the dark and changes everything.

Burning the Old
I first did a burning bowl ceremony at my local
Unity Church. The idea is to write on slips of paper whatever you want to get rid of in your life, whether it’s twenty pounds, a bad attitude or your anger toward your ex-husband. The women in my Solsisters group write fast and furiously in this segment of our Winter Solstice get-together, often scribbling into overtime. I can’t help but be amused sometime at all the catharsis and wrists flying. They line up and burn the paper in the fire. Like confession is good for the soul, dumping old burdens works in this form, too.

Ceremony of Recognition
One year, I realized there was something missing—something we needed to do to complement Burning the Old. We needed to recognize the accomplishments we had each made in the past year. We burn what we want to let go … but how do we memorialize or make permanent what we want to keep?

In the Ceremony of Recognition, we take another few minutes to write down what we feel we accomplished, completed … anything we each feel we deserve to recognize or thank ourselves for. I think many of you will agree that women tend to do too little of this. So here’s a meditation you can use to do your own recognition ceremony. Have pen and paper ready when you’re set to go:


Take a three deep breaths and center yourself. Feel at one with Earth.

Now, look at yourself in the Year 2008.

-- What was your proudest accomplishment?
-- What baby steps did you take toward something new?
-- What giant leaps?
-- What did you do that you deserve credit for?
-- How did others recognize you?
-- How did others not recognize you in ways you wish they would have?
-- How were you disappointed? (It is important to recognize our disappointments.)
-- If 2008 had a name or a title phrase, what would it be?

Candlelighting Ceremony
Our Winter Solstice celebration always culminates with passing the light. We each light individual candles, igniting them from each other’s candle, passed down the line. Then we hold them up to show how our lights, merged, light up the entire room—just as the light of our spirits, when joined for good, light up the world.

I hope Winter Solstice is just the beginning of a blessed Yuletide season for you. This year’s theme at my house is the Magical Child Within. I like hosting Winter Solstice, so I can continue to soak up the warmth the Solsisters create that night through the New Year.

I want to end with two quotes, one that honors the eternal child within us and another that honors the sage stage of life represented by the baby boomers who read this blog:

“Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.” –Victor Hugo

“For the unlearned, old age is winter; for the learned it is the season of harvest.” --The Talmud


Notes: Visit these previous posts for more information on
Winter Solstice and celebrating the seasons. This Year’s Solstice Moment, when the Sun Enters Capricorn: Dec. 21, 4:04a PDT (adjust for your time zone in the US or World).


Heidi Caswell said...

Thanks for sharing Joyce! So fitting for the season. I love seeing something different.

WendyY. Bailey said...

THANKS for sharing your stories of Winter Solstice. I love the questions you've asked, too!

If 2008 had a name or a title phrase, I'd call it "The Year of Ebb and Flow." 2008 has been an awesome year of personal and business growth. Occasions where I've experienced the ebb have been challenging and at times, downright hard. Moments of flow have been fun and at times, downright surprising.

I wouldn't change a thing!!

Eileen Williams said...

Wow, Joyce, thank you so much for that amazing post. I learned so much and I can see how your work stretches in many directions to encompass the wide breadth of spiritual traditions.
I especially loved the burning of the unwanted and the recognition of the achievements one's made in the past year. That must be a powerful ceremony, indeed, and one I'd like to try.
I'll be thinking of you on the twenty-first and I wish you a blessed and fruitful Yuletide!

Joyce Mason said...

Thanks, Heidi. I really enjoy learning how various people, past and present, have celebrated during this time of year. I like creating a custom patchwork of the best of their ideas and practices in our winter celebrations.

Wendy, thanks for sharing your personal year title. Mine would be The Year I Came Into My Own. While a person is always a work in progress, I finally feel like I've overcome enough of my personal issues to shine in the world with minimal fear and worry. It's liberating. I especially love that you wouldn't change a thing in your ebb-and-flow year. IMHO, that's how boomers ought to live our lives!

Joyce Mason said...

Eileen, I hope you and my other blog readers will indeed try Burning the Old and the Ceremony of Recognition on your own. You're right; it's powerful! You can gather a few friends and do it together. The group energy puts it over the top! It's optional whether or not you share from your Recognition list. We always have a sharing section to our celebrations, and that's where the Solsisters often mention items from their list. I can't help but think that if more people in the world dumped their burdens and appreciated their contributions,it would be more obvious that "we are the light of the world." We'd be so much lighter, we'd "get" it!

PopArtDiva said...

I have always wondered about solstice and equinox - I could never figure out which was which.

Your post cleared up a lot of my confusion - and I love the idea of a burning ceremony for getting rid of old "stuff" - unknowingly I have practiced this many a time when burning old photos and/or love letters after a break up, lol.

I want to incorporate this concept into my New Year's Eve celebrations as a new tradition now!

Joyce Mason said...

Terri, thanks for your Comment! To contrast the solstices with the eqinoxes, I like this definition from The Introductory Astronomy Dictionary:

Equinox: Either of the two instants during the year when the Sun is directly over the Earth's equator. In the spring in the Northern Hemisphere, the vernal equinox occurs around March 21st, and in the fall the autumnal equinox happens around September 21st (although the specific dates vary slightly from year to year.) At the time of the equinoxes, the length of day and night are very nearly equal all over the world. In the United States, spring and fall officially begin at the instants of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, respectively.

I had never thought of how we are Releasing the Old naturally when we burn mementoes. Thanks for connecting the dots on that for me!

Rhea said...

I used to go to Winter and Spring Solstice events. It's a very nice way to mark the seasons. I can't wit for the longer days!