The Winter Solstice
Winter Solstice has been celebrated across cultures globally for thousands of years. The start of the solar year is a celebration of light and the rebirth of the Sun.
If you live in the Northern hemisphere the shortest day of this year is celebrated on the 21st of December 2017. The sun will rise at 8.03am GMT and set at 3.53pm GMT. Thereafter the days get progressively longer and the nights shorter.
Winter inspires both joy and sadness in people. Some can’t wait for the colder months to enjoy the slowing down, snuggling up by the fire and sports such as skating and curling. There is a muffled kind of quiet when you walk out in the woods and the world seems to move just a little slower.
For others the frigid temperatures and wild weather brings dangerous road conditions and unbearable temperatures. The lack of daylight only contributes to the sense of depression and misery at this time of year.
The day the sun stands still - but not really
The word solstice comes from the latin word 'solstitium,' which means “the sun stands still”. Of course it doesn’t literally stand still because the sun doesn’t move at all. The Earth orbits on a tilted axis, around 23.5 degrees. This tilt causes the 4 seasons we experience throughout the solar year. Winter solstice occurs when the Northern hemisphere is leaning the farthest away from the sun.
On the Solstice it appears that the Sun stops all movement to the south, takes a pause, then slowly begins its track northward once again. The pause is what is considered the actual solstice.
The solstice around the world
Throughout history, celebrating the solstice has been a way to renew our connection with each other through acts of goodwill, special rituals, and heightened awareness of the natural cycles surrounding us.
Many of the traditions now associated with Christmas are believed to have originated centuries earlier with nature-based communities and indigenous peoples.
An example of this is the Feast of Juul (where we get the term 'Yule' from at this time of year). A pre-Christian festival observed in Scandinavia at the time of the December solstice.
People would light fires to symbolise the heat and light of the returning sun and a Juul (or Yule) log was brought in and dropped in the hearth as a tribute the Norse god Thor.
How to celebrate your own solstice
Attuning the senses to the subtle changes and cycles of the seasons might help to attune us more lovingly to the subtle changes and cycles in ourselves.
A good starting point might be to make a promise this winter to spend more time listening, watching, and honouring the slower, quieter rhythm of the season. On the solstice, visit a place outdoors that’s special to you—a trail, a field or forest. Anywhere in nature (and away from the tech!)
Light a candle. Reflect on your aspirations for the coming months. Make a list of loving wishes for friends, family, coworkers—even people you don’t know that well.
Silence is another beautiful way to celebrate the shortest day of midwinter. Reflect on the stillness of the day by cultivating stillness in yourself. Consider honouring the threshold of solstice with an hour of intentional silence for you and your household.
Whether you love or loath this time of year take a moment, big or small, out of your day to honour the natural cycles of our little world.