Winter Solstice

Living in Seattle I have gained a new love and admiration for winter solstice. When the sun starts to set at 4pm and doesn’t rise until 8am it is easy to understand the celebration and love of solstice. The term solstice means “sun stands still.” On the year’s two solstices (winter and summer) the sun appears to halt in its incremental journey across the sky and change little in position during this time. Winter solstice for us is the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year. Celebrated by cultures across the globe for more than 6,000 years, it signifies the return of light and with it, life. The longest night of the year is honored by many traditions as a sacred and rich time. In the past, it has been a night gather around the fire, or set out candles or call back the sun.  For this post I thought it would be nice to share some traditions, history and celebrations behind winter solstice.

Picture1Winter Solstice History- from Huffington post article

“The winter solstice is celebrated by many people around the world as the beginning of the return of the sun, and darkness turning into light. The Talmud recognizes the winter solstice as “Tekufat Tevet.” In China, the “Dongzhi” Festival is celebrated on the Winter Solstice by families getting together and eating special festive food.

Until the 16th century, the winter months were a time of famine in northern Europe.  Most cattle were slaughtered so that they wouldn’t have to be fed during the winter, making the solstice a time when fresh meat was plentiful. Most celebrations of the winter solstice in Europe involved merriment and feasting. In pre-Christian Scandinavia, the Feast of Juul, or Yule, lasted for 12 days celebrating the rebirth of the sun god and giving rise to the custom of burning a Yule log.

In ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated at the Feast of Saturnalia, to honor Saturn, the god of agricultural bounty. Lasting about a week, Saturnalia was characterized by feasting, debauchery and gift-giving. With Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, many of these customs were later absorbed into Christmas celebrations.

One of the most famous celebrations of the winter solstice in the world today takes place in the ancient ruins of Stonehenge, England. Thousands of druids and pagans gather there to chant, dance and sing while waiting to see the spectacular sunrise.”

A few other celebrations in different cultures believed to be linked to winter solstice include:

  • Beiwe Festival- The Assmi, indigenous people of Finland, Sweden and Norway worship Beiwe, the sun-goddess of fertility and sanity. She travels through the sky in a structure made of reindeer bones with her daughter, Beiwe-Neia, to herald back the greenery on which the reindeer feed. On the winter solstice, her worshippers sacrifice white female animals, and thread the meat onto sticks, which they bend into rings and tie with bright ribbons.
  • Brumailia- An ancient Roman solstice festival honoring Bacchus,  generally held for a month and ending December 25. The festival included drinking and merriment. The name is derived from the Latin word bruma, meaning “shortest day” or “winter solstice”. The festivities almost always occurred on the night of December 24.
  • Chawmos- In the ancient traditions of the Kalash people of Pakistan, during winter solstice, a demigod returns to collect prayers and deliver them to Dezao, the supreme being. “During this celebrations women and girls are purified by taking ritual baths. The men pour water over their heads while they hold up bread. Then the men and boys are purified with water and must not sit on chairs until evening when goat’s blood is sprinkled on their faces. Following this purification, a great festival begins, with singing, dancing, bonfires, and feasting on goat tripe and other delicacies.
  • Soyal- Soyalangwul is the winter solstice ceremony of the Zuni and the Hopitu Shinumu, also known as the Hopi. It is held on December 21, the shortest day of the year. The main purpose of the ritual is to ceremonially bring the sun back from its long winter slumber. It also marks the beginning of another cycle of the Wheel of the Year, and is a time for purification. Pahos (prayer sticks) are made prior to the Soyal ceremony, to bless all the community, including their homes, animals, and plants. The kivas (sacred underground ritual chambers) are ritually opened to mark the beginning of the Kachina season.
  • Yule- is a winter festival that was initially celebrated by the Northern European people as a pagan religious festival, though it was later absorbed into, and equated with, the Christian festival of Christmas. The festival was originally celebrated from late December to early January on a date determined by the lunar Germanic calendar. From

Winter Solstice Celebrations

Spend time with friends and family reflecting on the year and setting intentions for the coming year. Consider sharing a potluck meal, enjoy a nice campfire or gather around your fireplace with loved ones.

Another nice tradition I ran across was that of birthing dreams. “Since the longest night is a fruitful time for setting intentions, to be birthed with the newborn Sun. What you conceive now can grow with the Sun, and gain momentum in Spring. You might start a tradition of setting Winter Solstice intentions, and in one year, see how many have come into being. Put them in a special tin or box that has meaning for you. The dark before the dawn, just like new Moons, can be a powerful moment of magic, drawing in what you’d like to see happen in the new year.” From:

Winter Solstice Recipes

Think rustic simplicity focusing on local ingredient and seasonal crops, like root veggie gratins, hearty bean stews and squash or sweet potato ravioli.

Solstice Wassail

Wassail is a hearty holiday beverage, a contraction of the Anglo-Saxon term meaning “be healthy.” Its long steeping time envelops your home in the cozy scent of cinnamon and cloves. Serves 6–8.

2 pints and 1/4 cup winter ale
3 or 4 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves Zest from half a lemon
4 apples
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup port
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground all spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350° F.
In a large saucepan, pour in two pints of ale.
Add the cinnamon sticks, lemon zest and cloves and bring to a simmer over low heat.
Score apples around their circumferences with a knife. Place in a baking dish. Cover with 1 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup of ale and all of the port.
Cover baking dish and place in oven, cooking for 30 minutes.

While apples are baking, place remaining sugar and spices into the saucepan, ensuring it’s well mixed.
When apples are done baking, place entire contents of baking dish into saucepan. Allow to cook over a low heat for another 30–40 minutes.
Serve hot in mugs. Thanks to Gaiam Life for this recipe.


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