Pausing to appreciate the deeper meaning in our lives can be challenging anytime but especially during the rush of holiday activities, celebrations and gift-giving. Making time to reflect on the changing season can feel like just one more task. Ironically, creating time for a ritual can restore us. It helps us shift gears out of the “to-do” list and into a connection with the deeper rhythms of the natural world — beyond our carefully managed schedule and check-lists, beyond us. Like the simple routines that you may have for your meditation or asana practice – sitting on your meditation cushion, laying out your yoga mat, arranging your things, setting your timer, lighting a candle or taking that first breath — practicing rituals can ground us by creating our own rhythm that connects directly with the rhythms of the world around us.
Winter Solstice offers a beautiful opportunity for ritual. December 21 marks the Solstice, the longest night of the year and the turning toward the light. In the Northern Hemisphere, the days begin to lengthen. This moment of rebirth of the sun is celebrated for its energetic invitation toward regeneration, renewal, and self-reflection.
Technically, Winter Solstice is the moment when the earth’s North Pole is tilted furthest away from the sun. This year, the moment takes place at 5:22 p.m. EST. This is, of course, the moment of shift, when the days begin to lengthen and light increases, through and until the Summer Solstice in June.
In Pagan times, the Winter Solstice was referred to as Yule and was a celebration of the Goddess (Moon) energy. It was believed that on this day, the Moon would give birth to the Sun. Because of this, Winter Solstice was believed to be a sign of good things to come. Yule was traditionally celebrated by lighting a candle or decorating trees with holly. In fact, many Yule rituals have been adopted in the celebration of Christmas.
Native American tribes practiced rituals and celebrations around the Winter Solstice recognizing the emergence of light. The Blackfeet in Montana marked the “return” of the sun, or “Naatosi” on its annual journey by facing their tipis east toward the rising sun. The Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico hold a multi-day celebration, known as the Shalako festival. Near the end of the ceremony, six Zuni men dress up and embody the spirit of giant bird deities. These men carry the Zuni prayers for rain “to all the corners of the earth.” The Zuni deities are believed to provide “blessings” and “balance” for the coming seasons and agricultural year. As religion scholar Tisa Wenger writes, “The Zuni believe their ceremonies are necessary not just for the well-being of the tribe but for ‘the entire world.'” (from “Winter Solstice Rituals” by Rosalyn R. Lapier , Newsweek, 12.19.18).
Closer to my home in Maine, the Wabanaki, known as the People of the Dawnland, had a tradition of going from house to house at the Winter Solstice, asking for forgiveness for any wrongs of the past year. It was a practice of friendship and hope for the new season of lengthening days. (from “Winter Solstice Walk”, WMUR, 12.20.15).
Here are some simple rituals you could practice at home as you settle into the “long winter’s night”. And of course, you can create your own ritual to honor your interpretation of the celebration of the dark night and return of the light!
- Light a candle for the evening to welcome the new light
- Reflect on the past year, or season, what was learned, what you want to carry forward and what you want to release
- Share your hopes for the next season, or year with a friend, or in your journal
- Allow yourself time to be quiet, still and absorb the yin energy of the darkness
- Practice Yoga Nidra to dive deep into restorative peace
- Turn your yoga mat in the direction of the rising sun, on Saturday morning, 12/22, and practice sun salutations to welcome the new light
- Share a Metta meditation of peace out to your family, community or the world:
- May you be happy
- May you be safe
- May you be free from suffering
- May you know peace