Winter Solstice: Celebrating Light in Darkness

By Jennifer Tarnacki

Solstice takes its name from Latin, sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still)

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Approaching the winter holiday as a chance to celebrate the seasonality of the Earth is an egalitarian approach. After all, regardless of our religious affiliations or holiday traditions, we all live under the same sky and stars. Paying attention to the celestial show above as we pass through the seasons is a way of connecting to both the Earth and our common humanity. Winter solstice can be a profound way to tune into the magic and beauty of the season, as well as to celebrate what binds us together under a shared sky.

Astrologically, winter solstice is the longest night of the year. The moment of solstice is technically the point in time when the Earth’s axial tilt has leaned the North Pole the farthest away from the Sun. It’s as far as the planet tips towards the cold abyss of space. During its peak, darkness engulfs for three days before the Earth continues on its orbit, lengthening the hours of daylight once again.

Winter solstice is the time of year when the Earth astrologically spins far towards deep space away from the Sun. We are literally facing the void; the darkness. It’s no wonder that the occasion caused many to contemplate spiritual matters of where we arise and what is the meaning of all of this; our fragile miraculous existence.

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It was a striking, and deeply significant, astrological and emotional event. As the days became short and nights long and dark, the Earth froze. Winter often brought with it the specter of death; possibly starvation or famine. Survival was hard.

All over the world, cultures around the world, distant and separated by time, built temples aligning with the solstice, such as the Great Pyramids, Stonehenge, Newgrange in Ireland, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

The night was important: the long, dark night of solstice, the turning point of the Sun’s journey, was interpreted as the moment the light was reborn and the new year began. Since ancient times, all around the world, humankind has reveled in both the darkness and the coming of the light. Rituals were created to ensure the sun returned to bring back the warmth necessary for life once again.

Concepts of the birth of sun gods were common throughout history. For the Norse, it was Yule. For Roman, Saturnalia. Christmas employs many ancient winter solstice traditions.

During those three days of the stun “standing still”, common traditions were ones centered around light. In Sweden, St Lucia’s day was celebrated by wearing candles on a crown wreath. For the Germanic peoples who celebrated Yule, yule logs were burned, keeping vigil for the lights return.

Evergreens plants, symbolizing life’s continuity, were brought into the home. Emblems of green life became a tradition during the darkest days of winter. Wreaths, mistletoe, and holly were all little reminders of a spring that would bathe us in light soon.

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It’s this time of year that we light candles, build fires, and decorate our homes with twinkling lights. Candles, Christmas lights, and the menorah all embody the spirit of bringing light back into the darkness, fostering hope where there is only darkness. These rituals embody the spirit of the season, reflecting the hope that the unconquered sun would rise surely, miraculously, again.

During solstice, we know intuitively to await the return of the sun. It was a time to go inward and reflect, recognizing a deeper awareness of our connection to nature. Solstice provided a gentle reminder that darkness has a purpose, and to find balance and harmony in this knowing.

With our instinct to turn towards the light in this time of darkness, it’s also a time to turn toward the light within. We can honor and establish resonance with the seasons by being light ourselves, sharing the radiance of our spirit.

After the longest night, we sing up the dawn. On December 25th, three days after the earths farthest point on its orbit, the sun once again starts to rise, making the days longer and longer. The Romans called it Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. This is the turning point of the year. This is the day that the sun, symbolic of the light, is reborn, ensuring another year of growth and life.

So, in this busy season, whatever your holiday tradition, may your days be merry and bright. And may the rising solstice sun remind what binds us together, all of us under one twinkling sky. 

Gratitude,

Team at HFS