The winter solstice has been celebrated for thousands of years.
Many symbols we associate with Christmas, and use in celebrating the birth of Jesus, have actually been used by people all over the world in connection with the winter solstice. Early Christian leaders chose December 25 as the celebration of Jesus' birth (which many Biblical scholars believe actually occurred in the spring) because it coincided with the Roman festival "Birthday of the Invincible Sun." By Christianizing the festival and its associated symbols, the early church offered a way for new converts to understand the miracle of Jesus, the Son of God, coming as a human baby to be the Savior of the world.
Observing the solstice is a great way to be aware of the natural world.
Pay attention as the period of daylight grows slowly shorter until the solstice, which marks a reversal of the sun's ebbing presence in the sky. It's a good reminder of the blessings of change, growth, and new beginnings.
10 ideas for celebrating the solstice:
- Go outside and watch the sunset on Friday, December 21, or watch the sunrise on Saturday morning.
- Evergreens represented eternal life to ancient people, because unlike other plants they did not seem to die in winter. Holly, ivy, pine, fir, cedar, and juniper are all ancient symbols of life, rebirth, protection, and prosperity. If you don't already have a live Christmas tree, make a wreath from evergreen cuttings, or take a walk in the woods or a park to collect evergreen cones.
- Some ancient peoples lit bonfires and offered sacrifices to coax the sun to return at the solstice. We can simply light candles. Natural beeswax candles are especially appropriate, since the wax is a renewable product of worker bees who feed on honey. Honey starts as nectar, which is produced by plants using energy from the sun.
- Appreciate this dark time of year by taking a drive around town to view Christmas light displays. If you have outdoor lights, consider letting them shine all night.
- The ancient Norse called this time of year "Jul" ("Yule") meaning "wheel." The seasons of the year follow an ongoing cycle we can count on. If you have a fireplace or an outdoor fire pit, burn an oak log for Yule.
- Create a Christmas tree for wild birds.
- Invite others to a solstice meal. Sharing food implies faith that the seasons will return as they should, ensuring future harvests. A solstice meal could feature fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains.
- Though most of us today are blessed with an overabundance of food, for ancient people, winter was a time of starvation. Make a generous donation to your local food bank, or volunteer at a soup kitchen to help feed those in need.
- This is a great night to go caroling. Carry lanterns or flashlights to bring light as well as music to your neighborhood, and include songs that mention solstice symbols, such as "The Holly and the Ivy," "Oh Christmas Tree," and "Deck the Halls."
- Use your slow cooker to prepare some wassail to enjoy after caroling. You'll need:
8 cups (1/2 gallon) apple cider
2 cups orange juice
1 large navel orange
16-20 whole cloves
4 (3 inch) cinnamon sticks
4 (1/4 inch thick) slices fresh ginger, smashed (optional)
Wash the orange and cut it in half through the "equator."
Stud half the orange with the cloves; thinly slice the remainder.
Add all ingredients to a 4 or 5 quart slow cooker; stir together.
Cover and heat on the LOW setting until flavors combine, about 3 hours.
Ladle into mugs and enjoy!
Adult beverage variations:
Replace the orange juice with 1 (750 ml) bottle of dry red wine.
Make the wassail with the orange juice as described above.
When serving, spike each cup with 1 ounce brandy, bourbon, or rum.