Worldwide Holiday: Winter Solstice Traditions That Connect Us

Getting Out of Your Head & Into Sync With Nature

Many of us feel a deep intuition, something we sense in our bones, that the cycles of nature exist at all scales, great and small — both Way Out There and Deep Inside the hearts of all living things.

In our hyper-productive, head-centered culture, wellbeing often starts with paying attention to how these cycles affect our bodies, our lives, and our communities. Honoring the passing of cyclical time — slowing down to reflect and respond to what our world and our bodies are telling us — is an essential part of preserving our humanity.

Making Merry in the Darkness

The Winter Solstice — the first official day of winter, the shortest day and the longest night of the year — has been extremely significant for humans, both practically and spiritually, for centuries, probably millennia.

While facing down the long, cold months, people have stoked celebrations in the darkness of the Long Night, reminding themselves that warmth and abundance had not disappeared, and would return with the sun. 

The Winter Solstice is still relevant to us today. Wintertime can remind us to nourish ourselves — to take the time to rest, regenerate, and replenish our stores of energy, in preparation for the time when the earth bursts into bloom again.

And for most of us midwinter also means feasting, reveling and celebrating with our communities — just like our pre-industrial ancestors did.

Timeless Traditions We Share

In fact, you may be celebrating the Solstice without knowing it. Modern winter holidays in every country and culture derive many of their traditions from ancient Solstice celebrations. 

Here are some of our favorite Solstice facts, to remind us of how interconnected we all are — even across thousands of miles, or centuries of time.

  • Both Stonehenge and the Temple of the Sun at Macchu Picchu were constructed to align with the sun at the Winter Solstice — December in England, June in Peru. 
  • Evergreen plants were used as Solstice decorations throughout the ancient world, as a reminder that life persists even in the darkest days. The Egyptians favored palm fronds, and Romans and Vikings used pine boughs. 
  • The Yule log wasn’t always a video on Netflix. It’s one of the earliest widespread Christmas traditions, but the practice of burning a special piece of lumber at midwinter was probably derived from much earlier Germanic pagan Solstice rituals. 
  • In fact, “Yule” — as in “keep the Yuletide gay” — is the name of a Germanic and Old Norse pagan holiday centered on the Solstice. It involved the usual extravagant feasts and raucous celebrations — and also sacrifices, including of the “Yule boar”, perhaps the spiritual ancestor of the traditional Christmas ham.
  • The Incas celebrated their sun god, Inti, at the Winter Solstice. The holiday lasted nine days and involved parades, dancing, and animal sacrifices (to ensure a fruitful harvest season). Spanish colonists banned the practice, but it was revived in the mid-20th century by Quecia Indians in Cusco, Peru. It’s now become a major festival that attracts thousands from all over the world.

Weaving the Fabric of Community, Life, and Light

The striking commonality among Solstice celebrations — worldwide and throughout human history — is both compelling and inspiring.

This holy-day reminds us of the vivid necessity of genuine human connection — between us and our families (both our families of origin and our chosen families), between us and our wider communities, between our present moment and the cycles of deep time, and between us and the eternal pulse of Life in the earth itself. 

When times are dark — literally, metaphorically, or both — the spark of the sun in midwinter can remind us of the possibility of hope, renewal, comfort and joy to come. It’s a time to rest, rejoice, and reflect on the inevitability of change and the possibility of redemption — or revolution. 

Even when the nights are so long and cold, there’s always a light to be seen.

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