Each year, the Winter Solstice occurs between the 20th and 23rd December, when the North Pole is tilted furthest – 23.5 degrees – away from the Sun, delivering the fewest hours of sunlight of the year. This year, in the Northern Hemisphere, the solstice takes place on 21st December, at 10.59am (UK time). So that is the science! What fascinates me most about the Winter Solstice is its energy. The shortest day, the darkest day, the longest night.
Hundreds of people will gather at Stonehenge to celebrate the rising sun at the time of the Solstice, watching (weather permitting!!!) and celebrating the returning sun return after the longest night.
It is an honouring celebrated all over the world, as the returning light amid the depth of the dark is a theme that has an enduring relevance. The Talmud recognises the winter solstice as Tekufat Tevet. In China, the Dongzhi Festival is celebrated on the Winter Solstice with feasting and gathering. In ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated at the Feast of Saturnalia, to honour Saturn, the god of agricultural bounty and in pre-Christian Scandinavia, the Feast of Juul (Yule) lasted for 12 days celebrating the rebirth of the sun god and giving rise to the custom of burning a Yule log. We are familiar with this now with the legacy of the chocolate yule log cake that adorn many a table at parties at this time of year as the Christian world celebrates the movement away from dark and the return of light through the birth event of Jesus in the celebration known as Christmas.
Nowadays, with the use of electricity, the length of daylight does not have to impact us directly, but for our ancestors, this time of year truly was a time when their days were greatly impacted and they knew the depth of darkness. It is a time of deep yin energy, when we are called upon to rest into the depth of ourselves, to reflect on the stillness of our being. We can even dare to look into the darknesses within us and honour them, shining a light so that we can understand ourselves better and bring healing to those places that are in need of attention and nourishment.
It is ironic, that for many of us at this time of year, the concept of stillness, meditation, reflection and self-focused consciousness is nigh on impossible as we celebrate the holidays with friends, family, rushing around doing holiday shopping and preparing to cook feasts. And yet, this energy has its place too, within the Solstice time. As well as bringing our attention to the depths within us, and taking our time to hibernate if we need to, it is also a time to celebrate. Time to celebrate the connections that we have with the loved ones in our life and celebrate life itself. Traditionally this is a time of family and community gathering, of story telling, feasting, and singing the light back into the world.
In the Celtic tradition, the Winter Solstice is known as Alban Arthuan, or The light of Arthur. It connects us to the remembering of the great Warrior king, Arthur, named after the Bear (Art). It was understood that it is a time when each of us are called to be a shining light represented by the Pole Star of the Great Bear Constellation. It is a time to become the balance of light and dark, the balance of yin and yang, so that we can live from our intuition and our learned wisdom, marrying our head and our heart for the benefit of ourselves, our loved ones and all of creation.
So what can we do to connect into this energy? Firstly, celebrate! Celebrate life, celebrate loved ones and celebrate you. We can expand this celebratory spirit by sharing some of our love, joy and abundance with others, perhaps those who you don’t know or who are in need at this powerful time of year. And we can bring power and balancing into this celebratory spirit by also spending time to nourish ourselves through stillness, meditation, walks in nature, and perhaps lighting a candle to shine a light into our inner darkness so that we can grow in our wisdom.
Blessings to each of you at this Solstice time.