Home Articles Winter Solstice, A Time of Endings and Beginnings
Winter Solstice, A Time of Endings and Beginnings PDF Print E-mail

By Eileen Lawlor
Behavioral Therapist

From mid to end of December is the darkest time of the year. Like our gardens our own animal natures begin drawing us inward, as we take refuge in layers of warm clothing, hot tea and darkened rooms brightened by candles and working fireplaces. We may even feel wistful and contemplative as outer "sight" slips mysteriously into inner "insight" and we take stock of what is passing and what is possibly coming towards us, just not yet here or fully visible. This is winter solstice!

"Sweet Dreams", Gould Farm, Berkshire Mountains
see more images of the Berkshire Mountains at the Stillpoint Gallery

Winter solstice has been ritually celebrated for thousands of years by cultures spanning the globe: Middle Eastern cultures implored the sunlight to return and celebrated its doing so; ancient Greeks and Romans held a huge festival, Saturnalia, that included a birthday celebration for the "unconquerable" or "undying" sun (curiously on December 25).

The ancient Persians and Celtic Irish lit huge bonfires on winter solstice to symbolize the return of the light out of the heart of darkness.

Today, without even knowing it, when we light the tree, light the candles on the menorah or just sit before a glowing, cozy fire in a darkened room (in or around December 21) we are re-enacting that ancient ritual marking the moment in nature when the sun begins its yearly return. At this moment new light begins to emerge in our hemisphere, and a new life cycle begins its early stirrings from deep within an earth that appears both dead and barren. It is the magic and mystery of Birth-Death-Rebirth that we acknowledge as truth at winter solstice time.

Today though, many of us feel mostly overwhelmed, stressed if not outright depressed, by the utter hype and commercialism that has all but engulfed this holiday season. Bravely, we slog on, trying to do what is expected of us, all the while secretly wondering...why?

If this rings at all true for you, or if you would just like to experiment with something a little different to see where it takes you, here's a set of simple suggestions for creating a meaningful experience, to be done alone or with a group of like-minded friends or family members. Happy Solstice!

Winter Solstice Ritual

  • Sit together and share whatever has been lost/shed/let go of in this past year (for example: an era, a dream, a relationship, a pattern, a part of yourself.)
  • Read aloud the following quote (or something similar) to focus attention and intention for the period of silence to follow:

    "In winter our gardens, like ourselves, must have the will and determination to make it through the months of darkness- to face the cold and wind and yet survive. Winter, cold and dark, is a time to experience the empty space, to embark on our personal journey. The light we all long for... especially at this time of year, is more than sunlight. It is illumination of our own depths and spirituality and the warmth of love...

    Still we must trust the goings on and stirrings (unseen) under the earth. Seeds need their quiet, restful times of darkness to send out their roots, and so do we..."

    Adapted from Cultivating Sacred Space by Elizabeth Murray.

  • Now, douse all light! Let your breath, the scent of incense, or a chime or bell draw you into the loving darkness. Rest there for a long while, no thoughts, as a seed, waiting.
  • After the shared silence, light a candle or stoke a fire and notice where this mystical "new light" falls. Ask yourself: What inner part of me is waiting to be born? (for example, a new idea or direction, a quality, a dream, a way of being).
  • As your understanding builds, share with the group what you are realizing for or about yourself. Support others' new beginnings. Celebrate the return of the Light/Enlightenment.