Winter Traditions

“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!

48 thoughts on “Winter Traditions

  1. What a great quote. And some fine suggestions use before showing me something I’ve never seen before: a Buche de Noel. What is that?

  2. There are so many beautiful and soul endearing traditions around the world. I especially love the ones repeated in families for generations. May your holiday season be filled with love and light.

    • Indeed, Suzi, there are so many and the similarities across cultures is fascinating. At their core, it seems many of us are acknowledging/celebrating the same goodness! Warm multi-holiday greetings returned! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Thank you for the summer wishes – it’s already stinking hot down here and dry. But some of the northern winter traditions you mention are still carried out – my family always does the Buche de Noel. Mid-winter celebrations are catching on – and your beautiful reflection will come in handy come next June! A Happy Winter’s Celebration to you and yours!!

    • You are welcome. While a fan, I’ll take summer traditions any day over winter. Send some of your “stinking hot and dry” this way. One of my sister’s makes a Buche de Noel every year. I’ll miss partaking in 2013. Thanks for your wishes!

  4. Nice to be reminded of all the ways to celebrate the season and find ways to connect with family and friends as well as release what no longer serves us. Apparently, buche de noel is a chocolate dessert shaped like a log, but your picture looks like a bird’s nest. I’m not sure I want to eat that!

    • My friend, consider going to a local bakery and asking if they make Buche de Noel for Christmas. And order one! They are heavenly. Nothing like a bird’s nest. ๐Ÿ™‚ Glad you enjoyed the reminders and I hope that whatever you may choose to release will create an opening for new light and love to enter.

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  6. Oh, I love this! I’ve been trying to learn more about other holidays and traditions as I prepare for a work-decorating contest/food thing. I don’t want it to JUST be a Christmas focus. Unfortunately it looks like I’ll have to get out the construction paper because absolutely no one sells Kwanzaa or Hannukah decorations :-/ I like these Winter Solstice practices as well ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Four years ago when I was invited to my first Kwanzaa celebration (an extraordinary, ethnic/cultural food fest), I couldn’t find an appropriate gift for the hostess. I scoured the stores. Only when I thought to jump online did I find a veritable Kwanzaa feast (figuratively), along with oodles of decorations. Don’t jump for that construction paper yet, Aussa. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Eric, another great post. ‘Gets me thinking outside the box, the bigger picture. In the last 24 hours I have read three posts about the choice, the courage, to release into the darkness, and to find the light in the “night”. Have a great holiday. Peace, T

    • Thank you, Tim. Often, when I am aware of the ffequency with which the same theme or message whispers to me in a short time frame, I recognize it as something that deserves my attention. Glad you’ve recently experienced this ‘hat trick.’ Wondrous Christmas and year end holiday wishes your way. May the season be filled with love and light!

  8. Enjoy a nice, quiet dinner with familyโ€ฆ with a reflective focus???? Oh! Ha! Ha! Ha! With my family??? Tears are running down my face. As for the winter solstice, I love it. John spoke about longer days today!

  9. Hope you enjoy your holidays . . . and make some new traditions.

    We’re celebrating the Solstice on Saturday with a Winter Luminary Walk at De Soto National Memorial ~ as visitors walk through the woods, and along the Manatee River, musicians play at various stations. It’s lovely.

    “De Soto National Memorial’s Winter Luminary Festival is one of our most popular events. This year we will expand the Luminary trail to the whole park were we will feature hundreds of luminaries, Musical acts like Juan Leon, Native American musician, Amberly Waterman, Classical Vilolinist and G man, Steel Drum and Caribbean music entertainer. This event is free, but is subject to outside weather conditions.”

    The weather should be perfect for it. Yay.

    • Indeed, a lovely way to commemorate the winter solstice, luminaria and all. Glad to learn the weather intends to cooperate. Do enjoy! Thank you for your holiday wishes. Many more returned to you and yours. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Glynis. My understanding is that Buche de Noel originates with the French and their customs. It’s fairly universal now and yes, delicious! Be well.

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