Winter Solstice, Dec. 21, 2023
Sol = sun, Stice = stillness
The stillpoint is spaciousness,
it is timelessness,
it is close to death and deathlessness both.
In the pause, we feel more the present, our connection to each other, to spirit, to those yet to come & to the wise whispers from the past. Solstice is the turning point, a moving forward from the past with an appreciation for what we learned from her & a preparation for the upcoming year. In this special solstice gentle movement & restorative practice, we’ll connect, pause, realign & set intention for a beautiful New Year.
There is evidence that during the Neolithic period (10,000 years ago) the “original farmers” celebrated the Solstices. They knew their lives were intimately tied to the seasons and the cycle of harvest. With their eyes attuned to the “turning skies” in fear and respect, it’s apparent that they feared that the failing light would not return without festival and appeasement to the gods. Notches carved into bone show they appeared to count the cycles of the moon and it’s likely they watched the movement of the sun as well, celebrating with fertility rites, fire festival and offering to their gods and goddesses.
Jump forward thousands of years and we see that perhaps, our impulse to hold onto certain traditions today; candles, evergreens, feasting and generosity are all echoes of a past where Druids (500 BCE) brought in camomile, holly, mistletoe and pine to assure the Woodland Spirits that they’d find safe refuge during this time of darkness and cold. They valued darkness & stillness as a time for the renewal of spirit and germination of new seeds.
Winter Solstice Traditions
Western culture owes many of the traditional midwinter celebrations—including those of Christmas—to Saturnalia, an ancient Roman solstice celebration dedicated to the Saturn, the god of agriculture and time. Though it started out as a one-day celebration earlier in December, this pagan festival later expanded into a riotous weeklong party stretching from December 17 to 24. During this jolliest and most popular of Roman festivals, social norms fell away as everyone indulged in gambling, drinking, feasting and giving gifts.
St. Lucia’s Day: This traditional festival of lights in Scandinavia honors St. Lucia, one of the earliest Christian martyrs. It was incorporated with earlier Norse solstice traditions after many Norsemen converted to Christianity around 1000 A.D.
As a symbol of light, Lucia and her feast day blended naturally with solstice traditions such as lighting fires to scare away spirits during the longest, darkest night of the year.
On St. Lucia’s day, girls in Scandinavia wear white dresses with red sashes and wreaths of candles on their heads, as an homage to the candles Lucia wore on her head to light her way as she visited imprisoned Christians, carrying forbidden food in her arms.
Dong Zhi: The Chinese celebration of the winter solstice, Dong Zhi (which means “Winter Arrives”) welcomes the return of longer days and the corresponding increase in positive energy in the year to come.
The celebration may have begun as a harvest festival, when farmers and fisherman took time off to celebrate with their families. Today, it remains an occasion for families to join together to celebrate the year that has passed and share good wishes for the year to come.
The most traditional food for this celebration in southern China is the glutinous rice balls known as tang yuan, often brightly colored and cooked in sweet or savory broth. Northern Chinese enjoy plain or meat-stuffed dumplings, a particularly warming and nourishing food for a midwinter celebration.
Toji: In Japan, the winter solstice is less a festival than a traditional practice centered on starting the new year with health and good luck. It’s a particularly sacred time of the year for farmers, who welcome the return of a sun that will nurture their crops after the long, cold winter.
People light bonfires to encourage the sun’s return; huge bonfires burn on Mount Fuji each December 22.
A widespread practice during the winter solstice is to take warm baths scented with yuzu, a citrus fruit, which is said to ward off colds and foster good health. Many public baths and hot springs throw yuzu in the water during the winter solstice.
Many Japanese people also eat kabocha squash—known in the United States as Japanese pumpkin—on the solstice, as it is also thought to bring luck.
Shab-e Yalda: “Yalda night” is an Iranian festival celebrating the longest and darkest night of the year. The celebration springs out of ancient Zoroastrian traditions and customs intended to protect people from evil spirits during the long night.
On Shab-e Yalda, (which translates to “Night of Birth”), Iranians all over the world celebrate the triumph of the sun god Mithra over darkness. According to tradition, people gather together to protect each other from evil, burn fires to light their way through the darkness, and perform charitable acts.
Friends and family join in making wishes, feasting on nuts, pomegranates, and other festive foods, and reading poetry, especially the work of 14th-century Persian poet Hafiz. Some stay awake all night to rejoice in the moment when the sun rises, banishing evil and announcing the arrival of goodness.
Native American Traditions: For the Zuni, one of the Native American Pueblo peoples in western New Mexico, the winter solstice signifies the beginning of the year. It’s marked with a ceremonial dance called Shalako.
After fasting, prayer and observing the rising and setting of the sun for several days before the solstice, the Pekwin, or “Sun Priest” traditionally announces the exact moment of itiwanna, the rebirth of the sun, with a long, mournful call.
With that signal, the rejoicing and dancing begin, as 12 kachina clowns in elaborate masks dance along with the Shalako themselves—12-foot-high effigies with bird heads, seen as messengers from the gods. After four days of dancing, new dancers are chosen for the following year, and the yearly cycle begins again.
Like the Zuni, the Hopi in Northern Arizona celebrate the winter solstice with a similar ritual. In the Hopi solstice celebration of Soyal, the Sun Chief takes on the duties of the Zuni Pekwin, announcing the setting of the sun on the solstice. An all-night ceremony then begins, including kindling fires, dancing and sometimes gift-giving.
Traditionally, the Hopi sun-watcher was not only important to the winter solstice tradition, as his observation of the sun also governed the planting of crops and the observance of Hopi ceremonies and rituals all year long.
The stories between these periods and until today abound. Every year we create new memories and our own traditions. Here are some activities & questions to consider as you reflect on your own.
Reflect on happy winter memories. What are your favorite traditions? What would you like to carry forward?
Honor an elder who has passed on & re-establish you bond with them.
Get outside and honor the “bones” of winter season (tree branches, dried grasses, frosted ground, & stones).
Honor the living creatures that survive the winter season because of their own efforts & ingenuity.
Welcome the returning sun every morning & ebbing darkness every night…each for their gifts.
Look for and celebrate the first signs of spring growth.
Bring into your home, plants that have stayed green and alive all winter. They have absorbed the energy of the earth, rain, snow, wind and sun. Absorb that every with gratitude for their work.
Questions to ask during Winter Solstice Season:
What am I endeavoring to manifest now in my life?
How can I change my thought patterns, to empower my goals?
What old Connections could I release now, for my highest good?
Where can I turn for the best sources of inspiration and solutions.
What wisdom is seeking to reveal itself to me at this time?
What are the best ways that I can refresh myself, physically and spiritually?
How can I show my appreciation to others more effectively?
How can I show my appreciation to my Self more effectively?
What new seed has been planted this winter & how can I best nurture it as earth nurtures her seeds?
What are the imprisoning fears that I feel ready to release?
How can I best focus on my blessings this season?
How can I turn Obstacles into Opportunities
Introduction & Opening Meditation w/Debbi
I cannot find the original Nabu but I’ve written a rendering of it for Solstice as a way to honor the dark stillness, reflection. We’d begin the session in seated mountain, do a few spinal rocks & twists and then lie back with a bolster under knee and an eye pillow, maybe blanket, too.
Honor the Dark, Gratitude for the Shadows/Obstacles Yin w/Kathleen
You’d take over with some gentle movement either on their back or back up to seated. Gentle warmups to Lunar salutations….to honor the dark, feminine quality of the moon. You lead & I’ll make some commentary if it feels appropriate. I can move with the group. The focus is on gratitude for the shadows, obstacles which are our teachers. Perhaps alluding back to the Nabu meditation. End with Centering in seated mountain. How does it feel to be free?
Fire Pit Ceremony I: Debbi
Meditation on Release
The idea is that death is necessary for birth, letting go (death) is part of the important process of creativity.
Kapalabhati & Hom Phut Breathwork, Mudra, Mantra & Release
Visualization (what do you want to release….visualize it, visualize letting it go….drop the pencil exercise where they write down what they want to release & then literally “drop the pencil”)
Hum Phat (throwing into the fire pit of Lord Bhairava, the most fierce form of Lord Shiva, I throw into the fire all that I no longer need…be gone). Short meditation on how letting go feels.
Kali Story: Kimberly
Gentle and then on back, turtle & lord of the fishes to emphasize going in deep & listening.
Fire Pit Ceremony II:Visualization of Future Self. Debbi
Future Self Meditation….where do YOU want to go.
Fire is not just for burning what we no longer need but to provide the fuel for change. Write down what you’d like to bring to the new year, what you’d like to manifesst.
Fire Pit Ceremony III: Candle Ceremony
Everyone brings their papers up to the fire pit and drops them in. With Mudra & Mantra you do a ‘virtual burning’ ceremony.
To Seal the Deal: Breathwork & Yoga Nidra: Debbi
Rather than 108 salutations, thought it would be fun to do the 108 meditation (27 breath at belly, 27 breath at chest, 27 breath at throat, 27 breath and finally 27 breath at nostrils. This leads to a Yoga Nidra I could do.