Winter Solstice, Yule, Midwinter

By Bastian Groiss

The winter solstice, also known as the longest night of the year, is a significant event celebrated by many cultures around the world. It marks the time when the Earth’s tilt on its axis is farthest from the sun, resulting in the shortest day and longest night of the year. The solstice typically falls on December 21st but can vary depending on the year and location. You can find the exact date and time here. In the Southern Hemisphere, Midwinter occurs around the 21st of June.

 

Origins and Myths

The winter solstice has been celebrated for thousands of years, with evidence of its observance dating back to ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans. These cultures and others developed various rituals, celebrations, and myths to honour the significance of this time of year.

One story that has persisted throughout different cultures is the idea of the “return of the light.” Many believed that during the winter solstice, the sun was actually dying and would not return unless they performed certain rituals to bring it back. This idea is reflected in the Yule Log tradition, where a large wooden log is burned to bring back the warmth and light of the sun. The Druids also believed in the power of the sun’s return and celebrated with bonfires.

winter solstice yule log

Despite attempts by Christian Romans in the 4th century AD to abolish pagan festivities by adopting December 25th as Christ’s birthday, many Winter Solstice customs were later integrated into Christmas observances.

 

Significance and Celebrations

The winter solstice is a time of profound significance for many cultures and religions. The Yule was the winter festival celebrated in pagan Scandinavia, where the hearth fires of the Yule log held mystical importance. The Celtic Druids marked the Winter Solstice by hanging sacred mistletoe to offer goodwill to visitors. Germanic tribes adorned pine or fir trees with candles and tokens. The Inca conducted midwinter ceremonies at temples that also served as astronomical observatories like Machu Pichu.

In Japan, the winter solstice is known as Toji and is celebrated with the eating of a special dish made from rice and azuki beans. In Korea, the solstice is celebrated as Dongji, marked by eating traditional foods and performing ancestral rites.

Meanwhile, the Romans commemorated this occasion with Saturnalia, a festive event that involved merrymaking and decorating homes and temples with holly and evergreens. Additionally, exchanging small gifts believed to bring luck to the recipient was a common practice.

As these age-old customs have persevered despite attempts to eradicate them, it is fitting to celebrate the Winter Solstice by embracing these ancient customs and recognizing our links to the rest of humanity, past and present.

 

Rituals and Celebrations

There are many rituals and practices associated with the winter solstice. Here are a few suggestions for ways to celebrate:

  1. Light candles or a bonfire: symbolizes the return of light and warmth in the cold dark months of winter. Let these candles fill your home with their light. Turn off all electric lights and enjoy the fire’s glow and winter’s stillness.
  2. Honor the darkness: Sit in the darkness of the longest night. Meditate and reflect on the idea of releasing the old and welcoming the new. What do you want to bring into your life in the coming year? When you are ready, light a candle to signify the return of the light and life.  
  3. Host a feast with friends and family: celebrate this day with feasting and merriment to invoke the return of the warmth and light of the sun. Feast on hearty seasonal foods and festive treats and delight in each other’s company.
  4. Use evergreens: Decorate your house with evergreen boughs, holly, and mistletoe, which are all symbols of eternal life and hope.
  5. Create a spiral: the spiral represents the cyclical nature of life, death and rebirth. During this time, many people create spiral labyrinths out of candles, stones, or natural materials and walk through them as a meditative practice. You could also create a small spiral for contemplative purposes. The spiral symbolizes the inward journey of reflection, contemplation and renewal, as well as the outward journey towards the light and the sun’s warmth. 

winter-solstice-spiral

 

Honouring the Seasonal Changes

Celebrating the winter solstice is one way we can acknowledge and honour the seasonal changes and reconnect with ourselves, nature, and humanity at large. By embracing the rhythms of the Earth, we can deepen our understanding of the interconnectedness of all living things and our place in the natural world.

Yet to integrate the winter season into your life takes more than a celebration and acknowledgement, even though this is a great place to start. To truly sync with your environment for optimal health and harmony requires gradual and continual adjustments. These changes are more significant and challenging the further you live away from the equator. Here are some key aspects to consider:

Hopefully, you feel inspired to celebrate the Winter Solstice and to let the seasonal changes impact your daily rhythm wherever possible. Know where you are in time. Mind your rhythm, mind your light ☀️

PS. Although daylight hours increase after the Winter Solstice, temperatures will continue to fall in most regions. This is because it takes time for Earth to warm up, an effect known as seasonal lag.

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