A Story of December Solstice

Solstice in the northern hemisphere is the moment when the earth’s orbit and tilt are farthest from the sun. Winter Solstice is December 21 — the exact time depends on where you are on the planet. The moment of Winter Solstice is the moment the Earth’s orbit once again moves toward the light.  Winter Solstice is the return of the light. 

Where are you on the earth? How many hours of night and day do you experience on Solstice? Imagine the hours of daylight and darkness in places north and south of you. In the Southern Hemisphere this day is Summer Solstice, the longest day. Can you picture the earth orbiting the sun? Where you are in the elliptical cycle right now?   

In the northern latitudes the Winter Solstice is felt not by that exact time but as the longest night. After months of gradually getting darker and darker Solstice arrives and signals the returning to the light. The more northern the latitude the longer your night. In some places on the planet like Tromso, Norway the Polar Night lasts from November to January, when the sun doesn’t appear at all. In Tormso, after Winter Solstice the days get progressively longer until the Midnight Sun period, from May to July, when the sun never disappears. That is an extreme. Most populated latitudes still have sunrise and sunset, still have hours of day and night.  

In this dark and colder time plants draw their energy reserves into their roots or die back after setting seeds. The earth rests. Many animals hibernate, others migrate and others adapt to the season. Food sources need to have been gathered and stored. Finding shelter and warmth becomes an essential need for survival. What are the plants, and fellow animals doing in your neighborhood? 

Without electricity this was a time of longer sleeps and gathering together to conserve resources. It is no surprise that cultures that experienced the depths of darkness, the scarcity of resources and the power of cold, recognized this planetary cycle. We have stories of ceremonies and sacrifices based on the fear that the light might not return. We have stories of celebrations for the return of the light. Many traditions associated with Winter Solstice Celebrations have been passed down and incorporated into other holidays. Scholarship is scant but traditions continue in families and towns across the north. Here are a few traditions said to be rooted in solstice traditions that you may recognize in your traditions, each of these has symbolic roots: Evergreens, Yule log, candles, Mistletoe, Wreaths, Ham, Holly, Ivy, gift giving, singing, dancing. 

Today when artificial lights distance us from the natural cycles of light and dark, we are able to stay active despite the darkness outside. Now the ceremonies of Solstice tend to remind us to rest and rejuvenate, to learn what darkness offers us. Nature’s cycles spiral through dark and light. Many Holidays have the archetype of light and dark at their root. Just look around Holidayopolis. 

The metaphor of dark and light can be a source for insight and practices for your own spiral of light and dark. Here at Holidayopolus we honor Winter Solstice with an invitation to: 

Remember your life is woven with the Earth’s cycles.   

Recognize the dance of dark and light in your life. 

Honor rest, stillness, renewal and the time and space to regenerate. 

Listen to the stories and music in your depths of being and your surrounding community. 

Gently intend how this time of recuperation nourishes you to step forward into your life. 

How might you celebrate Solstice?

In River Falls, Wisconsin where many colonizers have Scandanavian roots, a favorite ritual was observed from many years. It was called Tie Down the Sun. We have no idea of any historical roots. It was beloved of kids and families and the community. It was led by Jera Terreng. Here is her description: 

Villagers gather, in the deep darkness of winter, when commodity is precious and scarce, to bolster themselves and enact a prayer for the return of the sun. Life was harder then, in different ways than it’s hard, now. But the longing was similar: please, let things turn. They brought food to share, and, in the way of all sacrificial ritual, brought balls of yarn which they could scarce afford to give (maybe the ones new spinners were spinning? and weren’t so perfect?). A fire was built. a circle called. And they spoke, sang, danced, prayed by that fire, which was their symbolic sun. And then, they played! All the ages, from the very young to the very old, they played, by tossing those precious balls of fiber across the fire, to each other, until they’d woven a fabulous web. And when they were convinced that they’d trapped the sun (because they’d run out of yarn), they walked that web ’round, singing and cheering, raucously: we’ve won! sun! you must stay and light the world and keep us warm for another year!  And, then, because they loved the sun, and were not presumptuous people, they fed it the web, and prayed and sang and danced, some more, in that blazing light. Ate together, told stories about what they’d do next spring, enjoyed the heat, the love, the hope, the camaraderie, the belief that doing something mattered. And it always did.