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Why celebrate the shortest day of the year?
On Wednesday, December 21, 2022, the winter solstice will occur—the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and the shortest day of the year. This astronomical event is one of four seasonal markers observed each year: the vernal (or spring) equinox, the summer solstice, the fall equinox and the winter solstice. These four seasons have been celebrated by cultures around the world for thousands of years in rituals that span from practical (preparing food and planning migrations) to spiritual (celebrating the lengthening days or welcoming new life).
This is the time of year when Mother Nature undergoes a dramatic transformation. When the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky, it begins its ascent back into fullness. This shift in nature represents a time of renewal, regeneration, and the birth of new light and beginnings. In contrast, the climax of the darkness we experience during this time represents a time of introspective exploration, or the process of understanding the darkness found within. By tapping into nature’s rhythms and syncing with them, we can learn about life’s patterns and our place in them, much the way our ancient ancestors did.
Ancient peoples saw the natural world as a source of teachings about universal laws. Understanding the interconnectedness of all things, they realized that the cosmos– the sun, moon, stars and other planets– affected them and connected them in undeniable ways.
The movements of the planets influenced the seasons and their harvest cycles. The stars guided their journeys across uncharted seas. In fact, when you look up at the night sky it’s hard not to feel connected to something bigger than yourself. Our ancestors studied these patterns and made use of them in their lives. They learned to navigate by the stars, to predict eclipses, to mark seasons and tides with the movement of heavenly bodies.
The ancients believed that there was magic in these connections between themselves and their environment. They recognized that there was power in understanding how things worked together to create harmony and balance in nature. Their connection with nature led them to develop rituals that honored this magic and allowed them to experience it directly through ceremonies like dances or prayers.
The winter solstice is a time to tap into your ancestral memory, connect with the earth, and celebrate the light that is returning to our world. Here are seven illuminating rituals to help you celebrate the shortest day of the year.
Rituals for celebrating the shortest day of the year
1) Arrange an Alter
Honor the day of the Winter Solstice and the shortest day of the year by arranging a sacred Altar. Gather items found in nature that hold special meaning to you and arrange them on your altar. Include holly, pine or cedar boughs, candles or colored lights, rosemary sprigs or garlands. Create a wreath from red berries like holly berries or cranberries, pine cones and evergreen branches. You might consider including items that symbolize regeneration, the contrast between light and dark, as well as symbols of the time of year. Position your altar in a safe place where you can meditate on the contrast between light and dark during the shortest day of the year.
2) Make a Winter Solstice Lantern
The winter solstice is a time to celebrate the return of the light, and what better way to do so than with hand-made lanterns? It’s easy to make your own, and all you need are some glass jars and tissue paper in lots of colors, cut-out shapes like suns, moons, and stars (optional), leaves (optional) and modpodge glue or white school glue.
Place the glue on the outside of the jar and attach your decorations. Add one final thin layer of glue over everything and let it dry for an hour. Then drop a tea light inside.
The first thing you should do before lighting your lantern is to reflect on everything that has occurred in the past year. Think about how it’s been for you, and focus on all those things that are important to you. Think about what you want to create going forward. What do you hope will happen? What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of life do you want to live?
Once you’ve reflected, take a moment and visualize yourself living this new reality—living as the person who is living the life they want to live. Now think about what it would feel like if this were true right now! What would it feel like if your dream life was already here?
Now turn your attention back to the lantern. The flame represents a bright future and all the possibilities contained within it. Light it with confidence and intention, knowing that when you light your lantern, a powerful force will emerge from within its flames.
3) Gather 'round the fire
It’s time to celebrate the return of the sun and the new solar cycle!
This is a great time to gather friends and family around a fire, or light some candles, and ask questions to deepen your connection to nature. Reflect on regeneration, renewal, self-reflection—and how much you’ve grown over this past year. Take time to acknowledge those things that have held you back from your full potential. Then, as we enter into this new year with hope for what is to come, let’s be mindful of what we bring into our lives and who we let into our lives. Let’s be sure that all that comes in aligns with our highest selves so that we can continue to grow toward our fullest potential.
4) Meditate At sunrise
The rising sun is a time of new beginnings and new possibilities. Renew yourself with this meditation that fills you with light and love. Begin your day in sync with the rhythms of nature, banishing darkness and negativity from your life.
Do this mediation outdoors at sunrise facing the East, or if it is too cold outside, do the meditation inside the warmth of your home.
Create a space of serenity and peace — dim lighting, soft blankets and pillows, ambient music… Brew a pot of your favorite tea or cacao… Light some sage or incense, or put three drops of earthy sandalwood in your diffuser… Gather paper and a pen… Settle in and…
- Sit facing East while you connect to the energy of the Earth. With your eyes closed, visualize roots growing from the soles of your feet, your tailbone or whichever parts of you are connected to the ground. Breathe deeply and allow your body to relax and experience the sensation of being completely supported by the Earth upon which you sit.
- Imagine the past year as a river flowing freely through your mind. Let memories of it surface effortlessly, like leaves on a slow current. And when certain memories come to mind, write them down and then set them free by tossing them into the river.
- Burn the paper, to symbolize those energies being transmuted into creative passion for your adventures to come.
- Close your eyes and picture the next twelve months. Create a vision for your life, and then write down everything you hope to accomplish over the course of the year.
- Fold this paper and bury it in the earth, to represent the planting of your intentions. And then, release these intentions into the universe. Be patient, for these seeds need time and space to grow into fruition.
5) Take a Walk at Dawn
Celebrate the shortest day of the year with a walk at dawn. Take the time to make a ritual of remembrance and reflection, particularly around the idea of walking through the landscape with mindfulness, which can be a powerful way to connect with the past and bring new meaning to your life. Appreciate the quiet and reflective time.
We often think of walking as a means of getting from one place to another, but what if you walked for the sake of walking? What if you slowed down and took in every moment of your walk, soaking in all the sights, sounds, smells and textures around you? You might find yourself noticing things you’ve never noticed before—maybe even discovering something new about yourself.
The practice of walking mindfully is ancient. Walk in a way that involves paying attention not only to where we’re going, but also everything else around us.
6) Prepare a Winter Feast by Candlelight & Leave an Offering for Your Ancestors
On the evening of December 21, create a traditional winter feast with warming foods to eat. Have fun creating a meal that warms and nourishes the body. Switch off all the electric lights and enjoy dinner by the light of flickering candles and warm lantern light. It also helps everyone appreciate the modern conveniences we take for granted! Take time to think about all that you are grateful for.
While we ask for good things for the upcoming year and give thanks for our blessings, it’s so important to also give back and make offerings. Reciprocity, even to the spiritual world, matters. Set out food, make prayer ties, or whichever offering is prescribed by your own teachings. Different specific practices are incorporated into making Ancestor offerings depending on the traditions of that area of Earth.
When putting out a ‘Spirit plate’ or ancestor offering, a wide range of foods typical to that region are offered in a small sized, yet full portion of food.
The ancestor offering is placed on the ground at a special place designated for your offerings. Pray for those who have come before you, in whatever ways work best for you…all prayers are heard when they are born of gratitude. Children can particularly enjoy laying down the offering. As our children and elders are generally closer to the world of the ancestors, it is appropriate for them to be the messengers.
The practice of setting aside an offering for your ancestors will help you connect with your loved ones who have passed on. This ancient ritual has been practiced by humans for thousands of years.
7) Watch the Sun Rise and Set
A favorite of my rituals for the winter solstice is to watch the sun both rise and set on the shortest day of the year. This is an excellent opportunity to pay your respects to the sun and acknowledge its life-giving power as it both arrives and departs. Get up early and greet the sunrise. Sip herbal tea and say hi to the sun, OR practice some yoga sun salutations. Breathe in the crisp winter air. In the evening, wrap in a blanket and sit in nature as you watch the sun go down.
We hope these 7 rituals for the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year help you reflect on the season we’re in and the transition it represents. Keep in mind that all of life is cyclical, so embrace the transition as it comes, and take some time to celebrate.
It’s important to remember that rituals are not the same thing as a daily routine. They are meant to be special occasions that help us reconnect with ourselves and the world around us. By creating a ritual for yourself, you can embrace the changing seasons and celebrate them in your own way.
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