Celebrating Winter Solstice beginning on December 1
Winter Solstice brings a time of hope, reassurance, and knowing that no matter how dark the night can be, the sun will always rise.
Counting down to Winter Solstice is a tradition we began in December, 2020. A friend of ours shared the concept during a Zoom gathering at a time when we could not meet in person because of the pandemic ravaging the world.
My husband David and I set up a spiral consisting of 20 tea lights, with one pillar candle at center on a metal tray. We arrange the tealights in a counterclockwise pattern (or widdershins) as we are ushering out the darkness with every candle lit. Some might say we should set the spiral in a clockwise or deosil pattern, to help manifest light.
We prefer to embrace the darkness, and ease it from our life one day at a time, giving thanks for the gifts that come from the darkness: sleep, regeneration, healing, transformation, creation being a few. As the spiral grows in light, the thanks we give adjusts to consider blessings like life, warmth, light, food, good times, rebirth and other similar concepts.
This holiday is more real to me than any Christmas I ever experienced. It is an event that has been occurring since the birth of the Earth. And there is no disputing this. There is no made up Santa, created by Coca Cola. There is no dispute about when this event originally occurred, whether it was in the spring or the summer. Just look up in the sky.
We aren’t worshipping the sun. It isn’t evil, although many people say that Pagans are evil or devil worshippers. We are giving thanks for the sun that lights our world, warms our Earth, and gives us life. It’s not evil. It’s one of the most sacred acts I’ve ever experienced.
So we begin our celebration on December 1, lighting the tealights each night for 20 days. If my math is correct, we use approximately 210 tea lights throughout the 20 days. Then, on the 21st day, shortly before dawn on December 21, my husband and I light all the candles once more, completing the spiral by lighting the center pillar candle.
We then take the pillar candle outside and in the shadowed folds of dawn, we wait for the exact moment of sunrise, then light our Solstice Fire as we celebrate the rebirth of the sun and say farewell to the longest night of the year. We return the pillar to the spiral and allow it to burn down throughout the day.
The first hour or so we sit bundled around the fire, sipping hot cocoa, contemplating the fire, the silence, the awakening of the day, and the life that lays before us. We try not to do anything that resembles work, as it is a day of contemplation and celebration. Normally, in the past (pre-pandemic) we’ve opened our house to friends and family, inviting them to celebrate Solstice by dropping good wishes written on paper into the fire.
The past two years, we’ve only invited close friends or family to stop by throughout the day, so that there are not more than a couple people at the fire at any given time. It’s been much more subdued these last two years, but I feel that this is heralding a change in our life, and change is not bad.
We have friends who begin the celebration the night before, building a fire and keeping it burning through the night. At dawn, we take over and burn the fire through the day. Then at dusk we have more friends who set a fire and keep it burning, completing the cycle. It wasn’t planned this way, but this is who we are, and the Universe has brought us together.
So as we move through the Wheel of the Year, the sun continues to grow stronger until Summer Solstice, when we celebrate the sun at the peak of its journey. Come the equinoxes that fall between the solstices, we celebrate the balance presented at that time, when there are 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of evening.
These are constant events, not marked in books or proselytized by soft drink companies or television cartoons, that bring proof and validity of the miracle of life, and the wonders of the Universe. They are real. They are true. And they are sacred celebrations as timeless as the Universe and older than humanity.
And at day’s end, as the sun sets, we know this truth. That no matter what happens, the sun will rise again on the morrow. No matter how dark your nights are, wrap it around you like a warm cloak, and know that the light and warmth of day is never far away.