This year the Winter Solstice falls on Wednesday, December 21st, and Thom and I are invited to a celebration. I’m not sure what to expect but we’ve been asked to bring a vegetarian dish for the potluck and I’m guessing there will be candles involved. At first glance the experience might seem strange, but maybe it shouldn’t be. In a time when many of us excessively celebrate a old man in a red suit who flies through the air on a sled pulled by magical reindeers, maybe the solstice deserves more attention than we normally offer. In fact, when I thought about it, I came up with two good reasons all of us might consider celebrating it on a regular basis.
First and foremost I think celebrating the Winter Solstice helps us get in touch with nature and the planet that we all need in order to exist in human form—and that certainly deserves our delight and honor. Remember, the winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the entire year. Exactly six months later, the summer solstice will mark the longest day and shortest night of the year and back and forth it goes. While it might sound routine—this occurrence is extremely extraordinary!
Just consider that unless the rotation of our planet happens just like the seamless clockwork that it does, you and I would never know or be able to celebrate the seasons that happen annually. Weather patterns and food production would be disrupted. Life as we know it would change. Over and over this aspect to our lives is just one of the automatic processes of our environment that we take for granted and assume will never alter. Like the ebbing of the tide in the oceans, and the elements of the earth, our bodies and psyches are intimately entwined in nature in thousands of ways. But like the beating of our own heart, most of us have forgotten the miracle that we live with day-in and day-out.
Unfortunately not only do most of us take our connection to the planet and nature for granted, it’s getting worse. According to veteran wildlife presenter, Sir David Attenborough, our continued disassociation with the planet over the last 60 years is a big cause of the current planetary crisis. He reports that rapid urbanization has resulted in over 50% of us now live in cities. Some children have never seen a live wild animal (let alone a domesticated one that they eat), clear skies, undeveloped mountains, or vegetables growing in a garden. With so many people out of touch with the seasons, with animals, and nature herself, it’s easy to imagine a future where we live in enclosed biospheres that resemble zoos (or jails). But instead of us placing the animals inside, we’ll be doing it to our children and grandchildren just to stay alive.
Of course it will require more than merely celebrating the Winter Solstice to return us to a place where we stay more connected to Mother Earth. But is it such a bad idea? If every family around the world took nothing more than a few minutes to stop and point out to their children the incredible miracle that life on this planet offers each of us every solstice, it could help in ways unimaginable.
The second reason I think it would be good to celebrate the Solstice is because it connects us to the past in ways that could possibly educate, inform and benefit us into the future. Think about it—according to some estimates it is believed that the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere has been celebrated for at least 6,000 years. That’s because although our ancient ancestors knew little of the scientific reasons for the change of seasons, they were intimately aware that daylight was growing shorter and temperatures were dropping. They didn’t need to look at a calendar to know that animals were going into hibernation, fruit or vegetables must be harvested and stored or that it was time to stock up on some candles. But then, just when it seemed the sun was destined to wither away completely, a reversal occurred and the light returned.
Attempting to make sense of the mystery of it all, our ancestors imagined all sorts of spiritual and religious beliefs to explain the return of light to themselves and their families. Anyone who had lived for a few years probably started recognizing the pattern and began realizing that perhaps there were things that could be done to ensure that the event not only occurred on schedule, but did it in a way that benefited the family. Religious rituals were introduced, celebrations happened, and before long the Winter Solstice celebration was an annual occurrence.
Of course, it wasn’t always called a Winter Solstice celebration. The religions and spiritual beliefs that sprung out mankind’s desire to make sense of the universe, absorbed the experience of the shortest day into various traditions and rituals that suited that particular group. The ancient Romans, who believed their most powerful God to be Saturn (the Sun God) celebrated Saturnalia on December 17th and partied for seven days. While it eventually evolved into a riotous experience of a holiday, it started out with feasting, gathering with friends and family, and gift giving.
Going further, Hanukkah from the Jewish tradition is connected to the middle of winter and is a celebration of light with rituals of gift-giving, indulgent food, and gathering with family and friends. The Dongzhi Festival in China and Japan is a winter solstice celebration with ties to short days and long nights, and roots traced back to the yin and yang philosophy of balance. Scandinavian counties celebrate St. Lucy’s Day where a young woman wears a crown of candles and hands out treats to children. Another winter festival tied to the solstice in Northern European countries was named Yuletide where the heat and light from a special log was said to represent the properties of the returning sun. There’s more. For at least 6,000 years most people on the planet have celebrated the season in a way that gave their lives meaning, purpose and a sense of understanding. There are (and have been) many more traditions out there that I don’t have time to cover. But this in no way detracts from those who choose to celebrate Christmas in whatever fashion. Instead it provides even greater depth and connection when understood within the concept of wholeness.
What I believe might be important is to acknowledge is that the Winter Solstice has always been a breeding ground of ritual, celebration and connection for all human beings for thousands of years. If we are paying attention, the Winter Solstice can remind us of the mystery, wonder and gift of being alive. As long as we are not overly attached to believing that our ritual and celebration is superior and exclusive, we can appreciate that all of us have a strong desire to connect to a source of meaning and purpose. Best of all, the shear wonder of the experience can also help us to be humbled and awed by a force so much greater than our limited and tiny understanding.
Another thing I especially like about the Winter Solstice is that it belongs to every single one of us equally. No matter where you live, no matter what your race or background, no matter your religion, political party, your sex, your age or whether you are rich or poor—this important planetary gift is ours to appreciate and enjoy. So regardless of whether you plan anything special this Wednesday evening, I urge you to consider that this event is indeed special and deserves recognition far beyond what we usually take for granted—even if all you do is light a candle and remember.
Jamie ONeil says
Over the past seven years, since we began holding a Solstice celebration, it has slowly become the center of our holiday season. Christmas has become such a commercial frenzy, with so much pressure to keep a busy schedule, to spend,..for a number of years I yearned for something more meaningful. Solstice gave me that, without all the social expectations.
The solstice has many ritual traditions, and each year, we have honored different cultural versions of the celebration. Of course, they all celebrate the birth of the Sun, Light, Christos. It is nice to step aside from all those holiday expectations and do something a little different each year. Last year we had a ceremony in the tradition of St. Lucy. This year it will be a ceremony of light with hundreds of candles!
Thank you for this very well written post on Solstice! You covered a lot of ground!
And I hope to see you at Solstice again!
This was so interesting, but I had to laugh at the idea of you aND Thom being invited to a Saturnalia, lol! Seriously, the solstices are such a source of the power of nature, no wonder so many civilizations have or currently celebrate it. Even the the Catholic Church adjusted the celebration of the birth of Jesus, possibly to placate the many religions, especially the Roman civilization 2000 yrs ago. But connecting children back to nature, now that is a task!
So here it is December 21, 2015, the Winter Solstice of this very interesting year, which reflects, there must be darkness to see the light. The mystery of the darkness and her illuminating portal to the deepest parts of ourselves beckons those who fear not the unknown to boldly step forward not knowing where we are going. This time of year has oh so many concepts to teach us and faith is one of them. The ability to believe in things we cannot see, the exclusion of our sensory systems where we are laid bare of all that comforts and is familiar to us. Kind thanks Kathy for your many reminders of this forgotten celebration of the Light!
I love how you say it reminds us of the gift and the wonder of being alive. I needed that!
Kathy Gottberg says
Thanks Kelly! I’m very happy to remind you of that! I hope that the remainder of the holiday season continues to unfold in a way that makes that point evident in many ways. Thanks for being part of my blogging family this year. It’s been great connecting with you and following your travel and posts. I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings to us all! ~Kathy
Beverly Diehl says
Sounds like a fabulous time. I normally attend a Solstice party each year and love it; any excuse for a party is a good one! Love the background and history of winter celebrations you’ve shared here.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Beverly! Thanks for coming by and adding to the conversation. I so agree about the idea to celebrate the winter solstice and every other good excuse we can find. And just like with love or gratitude–there is no such thing as too MUCH celebration. I’m glad you appreciated a bit of the history behind the holiday although there is TONS more that’s available. I’m hoping more and more of us take the time to make it part of our lives. ~Kathy
Kathy, I don’t have any large celebration for the solstices, but I do mark them. The winter solstice reminds me that light will be returning and this season is necessary for the rest of the year’s health, even mine as I need some down time which winter provides.
Hope you had a great time at your solstice party.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Lois! Nice to hear from you. Thom and I just returned from our Winter Solstice party here on the West Coast and it was lovely. Really great people, LOTS of candles, sharing of dreams and intentions, and an outpouring of gratitude–oh and the pot-luck was awesome too. And, like you said, it was also discussed that winter (and the solstice) is a time when seeds, animals and nature herself rests in a time of renewal so that when spring does arrive there is energy to keep on going. Thanks again for stopping by And may your Christmas holiday filled with love, peace and good health! I’m so glad we’ve connected this year and can’t wait to see what the new year will bring. ~Kathy
Thank you, Kathy, for this reminder to celebrate life and our planet the world round tomorrow, December 21st. I shared it with my social network.
Hope you have some wonderful surprises in your celebration tomorrow.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Pat! Thank you so much for stopping by and joining the conversation. Yes, I think many of us could use a reminder on the importance of tomorrow so I VERY MUCH appreciate your sharing this post with all your friends and readers! And thank you also for friendship this year. I’ve met some truly wonderful people and GREAT bloggers so I have a lot to be thankful for in 2013! ~Kathy
You’re welcome, Kathy. I feel the same as you with getting to know you and all the great bloggers I’ve met this year. I’m excited for the Winter Solstice, Christmas and the New Year! God Bless.
jo Casey says
I agree Kathy – life is way too short not to celebrate at every opportunity! I love how you’ve pulled together information on so many different traditions. I find it fascinating how we as humans are able to find solace and celebration in the darkest of times (literally!)
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Jo…thanks for stopping by and sharing “your” light 🙂 And yes, we all have such tremendous depths of creativity and wonder within us there should be no surprise that we would do whatever we can to create a celebration out of something so important. And because you write so much about resilience that certainly ties right in there right? Whatever you plan to celebrate over the coming week or two–may it be filled with light, love, peace and happiness! Thanks for your friendship this last year. I can’t wait to see what we all create in 2014! ~Kathy
What a lovely and informative post Kathy. Personally I’ve been much more observant of the summer solstice than winter. I suppose it’s because I find the winter so dark and depressing. But now that I’ve read your post, perhaps what I need to do is celebrate that starting the day after tomorrow, each day will successively grow longer. And that, to me, is something to celebrate!
Cheers to you and Thom. I hope the celebration tomorrow is awesome!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Nancy! Yes I agree that celebrating the summer solstice is much “warmer” (especially for you Canadians!) but I find it so fascinating to learn about how connected all of the “holidays” are this time of year. In the scope of eternity our lifetimes are pretty short, yet we tend to think that what’s been going on for us is the only celebration in town. Of course, I’ve been known to celebrate for practically any reason whatsoever (life is way too short NOT to celebrate IMHO) so the winter solstice is an excellent one to include with all the rest! Hope your holidays (however you celebrate) are filled with peace, happiness, love and clean stoves (yes I read your recent blog post!) Thanks for being a part of my life this year! ~Kathy