Today is the longest night of the year, and the winter solstice. In old Europe, the winter solstice was known as Yule, from the Norse, Jul, meaning wheel. Historically, midwinter has been a significant time of ritual, reflection and renewal, offering ample opportunities to cultivate deeper connection to nature and family. As the light returns and the sun is reborn for a new solar year, many find this a profound time to feed the spirit and nurture the soul while tuning into the magic and beauty of the season.
Celebrated in cultures all over the world for thousands of years, there are a few rituals that have prevailed over time. This celebration today is commonly recognized in Western cultures as “Christmas”. Most of the customs, lore, symbols and rituals associated with the holiday are borrowed celebrations from ancient nature-based communities and indigenous peoples linked to the Winter Solstice.
GIFTS, FEASTS AND FESTIVITIES — The custom of feasting and exchanging presents conveys love to family and friends. Visiting, entertaining, giving gifts and sending greetings to those who are important in your life this time of year is at the very heart of the holiday spirit, historically and today.
WREATHS — The wheel! By placing holly, ivy, evergreen boughs and pine cones around your home and a wreath on your front door it symbolizes the continuity of life and the wheel of the year.
SANTA — His roots are multicultural, embodying characteristics of Saturn (Roman agricultural god), the Holly King (Celtic god of the dying year), and Father Ice/Grandfather Frost (Russian winter god), just to name a few of his representations. There is much lore around Santa, with some claiming he was a shaman and others that he lives with his reindeer and elves at the North Pole.
LIGHT — Yule log, electric lights, lighting candles are all representative of the return of light and that Spring will soon come.
SERVICE — This time of year is a great time to consider service to others by donating food, clothing or time to those in need and renewing our connection to others with acts of goodwill.
These are just a few examples of traditions around this time of year. However you choose to celebrate the solstice and the season may you also find time to listen, watch, and honor the slower, quieter rhythm of winter.