Winter Solstice is a time of great symbolism and a time of reflection as the darkest and longest night of the year gives way to the return of the sun. Solstice actually lasts for 3 days, since the change in the Sun’s path is so slight on the days around the solstice that the Sun seems to “stand still.” The “high noon” of Solstice is when the Sun is exactly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn. This year, that moment is on December 21st at 5:22 p.m. EST.
This is a great time to ask yourself: What in your life needs to emerge from the darkness into the light? What seeds have been nurtured in the depths of your being that want to find expression in the light?
All ancient spiritual teachers had some type of ceremony to honor the return of the sun, and they left us some vivid reminders. Stonehenge in England is known for its precise alignment with the movement of the sun and has been a sacred place to celebrate the solstice for thousands of years. The same is true for Newgrange, a burial mound in Ireland that is over 5,000 years old. It has a 62-foot passage leading to a chamber. During winter solstice, the rising sun comes through the top of the chamber and lights the room.
All over the world, there are festivals and rituals to mark the beginning of longer days and the return of the Sun, symbolized by Christmas tree lights, menorahs, Kwanzaa candles, and Twelfth Night bonfires. Another of the ancient customs comes from the Druids and Pagans, who still call their celebration Yule and burn a yule log. The log, an emblem of the returning Sun, is a huge block of wood, meant to last for the 12 days of Christmas, turning night into day and illuminating the house.
There is something within us all that needs to know there will be light after the darkness of the longest night. So how will you celebrate the Sun’s return to greater light?
You could make your own yule log. Each type of wood has its own spiritual qualities, and the type of wood you burn in a ritual can indicate your hopes and prayers for the new year ahead. Aspen brings spiritual understanding; oak symbolizes endurance and strength, victory and triumph; pine (fir, juniper, cedar) can bring prosperity and protection; the yew tree connects with immortality and longevity; and birch is associated with rebirth and regeneration, as well as fertility.
You can decorate your yule log with candles and greenery. A sprig of holly ensures your family’s safety and brings good luck. And do you know the song about “the holly and the ivy?” Ivy lives on after its host plant has died—a reminder that life goes on. It symbolizes healing, protection, and the binding of lovers together, so it’s associated with loyalty and the powerful bonds of family and friends. And then there’s mistletoe, associated with peacemaking and the end of discord, not just kisses, although nothing wrong with them either!
Wrap your log loosely with ribbons of different colors. Here again, see what you want to symbolize. Red, which we associate with Christmas poinsettias, holly berries, and Santa’s suit, is used to indicate passion and prosperity and good fortune. Green, the other color associated with the Yule season, is a reminder of the evergreen tree, and therefore everlasting life. White symbolizes purity and truth and represents purification and spiritual development. Gold, of course, is the blazing sun. It was one of the gifts brought to the newborn “light” of Jesus by the Magi, and the first menorah was made from a single lump of gold. Gold ribbons invite in wealth for the coming year and a sense of revitalization. You can also decorate the log with pine cones, dried berries, cinnamon sticks (makes a lovely smell as the log burns), along with the ribbons and the cuttings of holly and ivy.
When you’re ready to burn your yule log, you can do it in a fireplace or outside in a fire pit. Write down an intention for how you will live in the light during the coming year and stick the paper in with the log. On the night of winter solstice, set up an altar with pictures of your loved ones and spiritual guides, and turn off all the lights in your house, and then meditate. At the end, and facing the altar, say a blessing for the return of the light.
It could be: “The wheel of the year has turned once more. Tonight, the darkness starts to retreat and the light begins its return. The sun returns to us once more.” Then light the log or some candles, and say, “The shadows vanish and life continues. We are blessed by the light of the sun, and the inner sun of our divine self.”
Rituals are reminders. This time of year, in the midst of the usual holiday chaos, align yourself with the solstice and mark the birth of more and more light in your life. It is your light that brings you immortality.