“The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.” ~ Joseph Campbell
I like traditions. I like celebrating them. I won’t be with family this Christmas but I have been invited to celebrate both the winter solstice and Kwanzaa with local friends. For those unfamiliar, the winter solstice hails the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s all due to the earth’s tilt, which ensures that the shortest day of every year falls around December 21.
Since ancient times people have marked the winter solstice with countless cultural and religious traditions – it’s no coincidence the modern holiday season surrounds the first day of winter. During the winter solstice, the sun hugs closer to the horizon than at any time during the year, yielding the least amount of daylight annually. “Solstice” is derived from the Latin phrase for “sun stands still.” For the ancients, this indicated the disappearance of the nourishing, life-sustaining sun and yet it means that in the days following the solstice, the sun would rise again, bringing the promise of spring and new life.
In Scandinavia (from where my father’s side of the family hails), people listen to sung legends while the yule log, which was thought to magically help the sun shine brightly, burned in the family hearth. In Iran, huge bonfires are kindled to symbolically stimulate the sun to grow stronger. For Native American Hopi, the month-long Soyal festival includes rituals to honor lights shining amid darkness, a theme echoed by holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. China’s winter solstice festival, Dong Zhi, is marked by plentiful winter foods.
For many, winter solstice is an opportunity to celebrate the cyclical nature of our lives. You can honor the new solar year by creating your own ritual(s). At a loss for what to do? Here are four suggestions:
- Enjoy a nice, quiet dinner with family… with a reflective focus.
- Choose to contribute some time to helping those having a hard winter or just spend some time meditating on how to bring more light into the world.
- Find a way to release; it’s a strong medicine. Write down what you’d like to release into the darkness. Then, cast it into a fire.
- Eat Buche de Noel (pictured below) which is said to have remunerative powers.
Whatever you do to commemorate this time of year, remember that winter solstice is all about the hope for a bright and warm future. And for friends in the Southern Hemisphere, here’s wishing you a beautiful summer!