The strongest component of the winter season is light. Throughout the year, there is the dance of light and dark, and at the winter solstice, this dance is at its most intense and pronounced, with the longest period of darkness and the shortest period of light. Our ancestors, without the advantages of electric lights and central heating, were no doubt apprehensive about whether the winter’s coldness and darkness would ever come to an end, whether their food supplies would hold—whether their family or tribe would survive the harshness of the season.
The fire that heated the home, candles placed about, and a great faith in the eternal cycles of light and dark, heat and cold, death and rebirth, were what kept up their spirits. The various solstice festivities kept up their hope. The symbols of light, such as the bonfire, hearthfire, and candles reminded them that the light would return as it had for every year. Other symbols, such as a tree that was brought in, an “ever-green,” helped them to remember that even in the harshest of times, life continues onward.
Here are some ways to celebrate this season:
Slow down! That’s perhaps the best way to commemorate these times. It’s the time of year when life is dormant, when the seeds that are in the ground will be there for a while, until the proper amount of light and heat beckon them to germinate and sprout. It’s time for us to rest and recuperate, to settle down for “a long winter’s nap,” to go to bed earlier and to sleep later. This is quite a challenge in these hectic, hurry-up times, but with such an intention, you can do it.
Everyone tends to rush around during the holidays, frantically trying to fulfill the Christmas wish list and prepare for the feasts. If our inner nature is in step with the season, then to override this with such tremendous forced activity can’t help but contribute to stress. When our organic self is stressed, it compromises the immune system, and voilá! —Illnesses, such as colds and flus, beat down the door of our natural defenses.
One effective ceremony to remind us of this is an energy fast. This is perhaps the best quarter day to do this. Let yourself surrender to the darkness. Light candles and go to bed very early. Use as little energy as you can. An addition to this would be a day of silence, to couple this with the energy fast. If you want to round it out, at the same time as these do a cleansing fast.
On the morning of the return of the Light, that is, after the longest night of the year, I like to go up on a mountain and greet the sunrise. It’s possible to do various ceremonies with this. One year I danced and drummed as the sun rose.
Needless to say, feasts and festivities with friends allow us that time for a pause and for appreciation. These kinds of activities remind us we’re part of a clan, tribe or family, and that we need not suffer the dark times alone. Make time in your schedule for such gatherings and create ones that fit your needs and desires. Some of these can be formats for sacred ceremony.
Another powerful ceremony augmented by this season of darkness and light is a manifestation ceremony, similar to a release and renewal ceremony but with a slight twist. Recently we did this as a New Year’s Eve ceremony which also served as a way to socialize with friends. We all brought a dish to share, and there were snacks as we sat around the warm fireplace, socializing, with occasionally a flute or some drumming happening on one side of the room. On the steps leading to the house, we had constructed lamps made from paper bags folded halfway down, with sand in the bottom and a lit candle on top of that.
We started the ceremony rather informally, when our hosts brought out a whole bunch of crayons and paper and, not so subtly, placed them in the center of the living room. They explained that on one sheet of paper, write or draw the stuff you want to leave behind (release), and on another, those attributes and attitudes you want to have expand (manifestation).
We all set to work. On the release piece of paper, I wrote such things as “shame,” “fear of disapproval,” and “self-doubt.” On the manifestation paper, I wrote “faith,” “purpose,” and “courage.” On both papers, the words were stylized and multi-colored. We all had fun with this, and yet there was serious intent.
Whenever any of us finished, each person took the release list to the fire, and with a prayer threw it in. Once everyone had done this, then we walked ensemble to the back yard. There we found lanterns similar to those in front outlining a path to a small plateau of dirt. We followed the path and circled around a hole that was dug in the center of the mound.
We prayed together, then chanted “Om” three times. Then we buried the manifestation paper whenever we were ready. Each of us in turn did so, and once we all finished this, everyone then added a handful of Earth. The purpose of this was so that Mother Earth could take these requests into her bosom and nurture them through the darkness of the winter into warmth and light of the coming sun days, such that these items would manifest.
We circled together once more, and sang a couple of songs, then closed with a prayer. There was a tremendous sense of camaraderie and support in that ceremony. It was a beautiful Solstice ceremony, designated to welcome not only the coming new year, but also the return of the light.