Our ancient ancestors celebrated Yule, and when Christianity was introduced the church opted for this time of year to celebrate Christmas, with many of the Yule traditions and practices absorbed into Christmas festivities. We can hear echoes of pagan songs in Christmas carols, and just like our ancestors we light candles and fires, decorate our homes with evergreen plants, feast, dance, and give gifts. Whatever your religious background, Winter Solstice offers a perfect opportunity to get together with family and reflect on the year that has gone and the year to come. If your family have different religious beliefs, Winter Solstice is a good chance to be together and celebrate a non-denominational festival, a time of gratitude for Nature’s cycles.
Solstice means ‘sun stand still’, and this is the time when the sun seems to halt in the sky. Christians celebrate the birth of Christ at this time of year, and Yule is connected to the joy at the birth of the Sun God, child of the Goddess. It is a celebration of rebirth. This is the turning point of the year, when the days gradually become longer and the darkness of winter is overcome. It is easy to understand why our ancestors held Solstice in such reverence. Their lives were governed by the sun, and the promise of its return would, of course, be sacred. Today, our relationship with the natural world has much less of an impact on our everyday lives; in fact, 21st century people can, and do, forget the world outside their window.
There are many ways you can bring the magic of Winter Solstice into your homes and hearts. Here are a few ways to make the most of the sacred energy with your family:
*1). Set out on a Solstice walk*
Take your family out into the natural world to gather greenery for your home. Take time selecting your Yule log, finding a dry piece of wood that has fallen. Spend some time (if it’s dry) sitting on the Earth, or place your hands on the Earth, connecting with the pulse of life. Bring home the gifts of Nature, selecting branches and berries that have naturally fallen, to fill your house with the evergreen magic of winter.
*2). Light a Solstice fire*
Gather with friends, family, neighbours and community to light a Solstice fire. Watching the flames leap and dance connects us to life and light, and the practice of our ancestors many years ago.
*3). Feed the animals*
Take your kids into the woods to feed the animals. Not only does this connect us to Mother Earth and all her creatures, it helps us understand our place in Nature. Find a clearing and leave offerings for birds and woodland creatures there, extending your gratitude for all of life.
*4). Tell legends or stories around the fire*
Telling stories around the fire is such a heart-warming family activity. Maybe you have family stories that evoke a communal belly laugh, or perhaps you’d like to tell the story of the Holly King or another topical Solstice legend. Turn off the lights and gather together by candlelight to bring magic into your hearts and minds.
*5). Have a Solstice feast*
Throughout history, people have gathered together to feast! This time of year is synonymous with feasting. You could invite people over for a pot-luck dinner, or make a big hot-pot of warming stew for the family and eat it around the Solstice fire. Check out our Solstice recipes for some ideas.
*6). Create a circle of candles*
Invite each family member to light a candle and arrange them in a circle. You might decide to honour the four corners – North, South, East and West – and what they each bring into your lives. Or you might choose to remember lost loved ones. Each family member makes a wish for the coming year as they light their candle. The centre candle should be lit by parents, with a reverential prayer of thanks for each family member, for the year gone and the year to come, and for the gift of the sun. If you can, leave the candles to burn down so they cast a glow into your family home throughout the evening.
*7). Write down your gratitudes for the year*
Each family member is invited to write down the things they have been grateful for in the past year. It could be the returned health of a loved one, or a new job or shared activity. It could be a memorable shared experience. It could simply be precious time as a family. You can either hang these gratitudes on your Yule tree or burn them ceremonially in the Solstice fire. It is also a good chance to think about habits, activities, or aspects of your life you’d like to let go of in the coming year – these can be symbolically burnt while speaking your intention aloud.
*8). Burn the Yule log*
Yule logs are a traditional part of this season’s celebrations – a big piece of wood that will burn throughout the festive period. If you have a fireplace at home, build a fire and when it is going well, add your Yule log. A piece of charred wood is usually saved to light the Yule fire the following year. Perhaps you’d like to hold hands around the Yule fire and spend some quiet time watching the flames and reflecting on the year past. Or you could sing Yule songs, such as Deck the Halls or The Holly and The Ivy together.
*9). Make a Yule wreath*
Wreaths are very much a part of Solstice celebrations, honouring the Holly King and the evergreen plants that remind us that life still remains in the darkness of winter. On your Solstice walk, you could select evergreen plants to decorate your wreath, or perhaps you might make a wreath from cut out paper leaves and berries. Hang your wreath on the front door so that each time you pass it, you remember that life springs eternal.
*10). Give thanks*
Solstice is the antithesis of the advertising world’s Christmas. It is a time of gratitude for Nature’s gifts and a pause in the rush at this time of year. However you choose to celebrate the return of the sun with your family, or whether you decide to simply spend some quiet time alone (one way to bring the energy of Solstice deep into your heart is to start the day with a Sun Salutation or two), make this special day one of reflection and stillness, a chance to breathe and give thanks for the beautiful natural world.
So the shortest day came
and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries
of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
to drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
to keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us—listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day.
As promise wakens in the sleeping land;
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year, and every year.