The season’s arrived! And this means it’s time for a winter solstice ritual…
The wheel of the year is turning, and here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re descending into the deepest, darkest time of the year. But it’s not all doom and gloom! Winter solstice rituals aren’t only great ways to call back in the light, but to harness the mystery, magic, and supreme power of the sacred dark.
What is the winter solstice, and why does it happen?
Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, and it marks the point when the Earth’s axial tilt is farthest away from the Sun, resulting in the least amount of daylight and the longest night of the year.
As our beautiful Mother Earth spins around the Sun, the poles are tilted on a slight diagonal, which is why we have seasons, and it’s part of what causes the Northern and Southern Hemispheres to experience summer at different times of the year. (The Moon also plays a part in this).
When is the winter solstice (Yule)?
Although the winter solstice is typically celebrated on December 21st, the exact moment varies from year to year because the Gregorian calendar and the rotation of the Earth don’t align perfectly. So the winter Solstice (also known as Yule) tends to arrive each year between December 20th, and the 23rd.
In 2023, the winter solstice occurs on December 21st.
Why is the winter solstice so important?
The winter solstice is important because it marks the turning point of the year, the moment when the darkness begins to recede and the light begins to return. It’s a time of rebirth, renewal, and new beginnings.
This astronomical event has been celebrated by cultures around the world for thousands of years, as a time to honor the cycles of nature, reflect on the past year, and set intentions for the coming year.
This time reminds us of the power of the natural world and our connection to the universe as a whole.
But in the last two thousand years since the rise of Christianity and the suppression of Earth-based belief systems, Christmas has become the winter festival we all “celebrate”. And more recently, the rampant consumerism of the capitalist age has pushed many people further from the simple truth of our cyclical and seasonal lives.
YET in pre-Christian, animist societies, the winter solstice was an important feast day full of meaning. Myths and stories were told, ancient winter solstice rituals and traditions were kept, and deities were celebrated.
Many people trace the roots of Yule back to the Norse people. On this sacred day, the Sky Goddess Frigga was said to sit spinning at her wheel, drawing out the threads of life (could this be the origin of our modern Christmas wreath?)
It’s also likely that our ancestors from all over the world celebrated through other Gods and Goddesses. Many of their stories were woven in and out of this dark day and night. From the Celtic Goddess Rhiannon who rode through people’s dreams, offering them visions in the dark, to the Egyptian Goddess Isis who gave birth to the sun god Horus, symbolized by a winged Sun.
So as well as a day of retreat into the dark, the Winter Solstice has also traditionally been a powerful time of release and of rebirth. Many winter solstice rituals revolve around this premise – symbolically manifesting this function and trait of the Dark Feminine.
Ultimately, the winter solstice is a day when the cycles of nature are honored. When the eternal cycle of birth, life, and death – that ordinarily sits just below the realms of our perception – rises up to the surface.
Like the dark Moon phase, the winter solstice symbolizes the dark before dawn, a liminal time of mystery and transformation.
What’s the astrology of the winter solstice?
Winter solstice is astrologically marked by the Sun’s transit into the zodiac sign of Capricorn
Each year, the Sun’s transit through the grounded, tenacious earth sign of the sea goat corresponds with this dark, cold winter season. This feels apt – sometimes, getting through the winter season can feel a lot like climbing a very high mountain!
In the Southern Hemisphere, this day coincides with the Summer Solstice – the longest day (June 21 or 22 in the North).
How are you supposed to celebrate the winter solstice?
There are many ways to celebrate the winter solstice, depending on your personal beliefs and traditions. Some of the most common practices include lighting candles or a bonfire to symbolize the return of the light. You could perform a release ritual to let go of what no longer serves you, or set intentions for the coming year.
Other activities might include spending time in nature, gathering twigs, greenery and betties to make a crown or craft, or baking and feasting with loved ones.
The important thing is to honor the cycles of nature, reflect on the past year, and embrace the new beginnings that the solstice brings.
Our ancestors knew this – they felt it.
… And many modern Pagans, Wiccans, shamanic practitioners, animists, and spiritually-minded folks also feel the power of this turning point in the wheel of the year.
If you also invite a sacred pause into this Yuletide, you’ll also feel the rhythms and cycles of our incredible planet ripple through you.
What do you do spiritually on the winter solstice?
Spiritually, the winter solstice is a time to connect with the cycles of nature and the universe. It’s a time to embrace the darkness, and reflect on the past year, so that you can release what no longer serves you, and set intentions for the coming year.
Many people also use this time to connect more deeply with their spiritual beliefs and practices, and to deepen their connection with the divine, particularly the dark goddess.
Days like the winter solstice are known as “power days”.
They are pivot points on the axis of the seasonal wheel. Just like the two equinoxes and the cross-quarter festivals, there’s a LOT of cosmic charges available at Yule. It’s energy that is available and ready to be directed at will. This makes winter solstice one of the best days in the entire year to hold a ritual, cast a little magic, and connect to the divine, creative forces of Nature.
Winter solstice rituals can also be simple celebrations, ways to give gratitude for the year
A wonderful day for pausing, and casting your gaze back over the entirety of the year. Winter solstice can be an opportunity to honor all that you are, all that you’ve become this year, and all that you have in this one and precious life.
Whatever your calling, whatever this winter solstice means to you this year, take a little time out of the ordinary. BE in the sacred now.. you may find something beautiful there.
13 ways to celebrate the winter solstice
Embracing certain traditions is a wonderful way to celebrate the winter solstice, as these practices already hold the energy and intention of many generations of people. Try adapting them so suit your lifestyle and family rhythms – here are a handful of yule ritual ideas for you to try in your own life.
Don’t try and do them all! Choose one or two, and share them with someone you love…
1. Honour the dark
Celebrate winter solstice by welcoming in the light. Many nature-based traditions understand this as a day to welcome back the light.
Since the Autumn equinox – roughly 6 weeks ago – the hours that sunlight has been cast across the Northern Hemisphere have diminished. Daylight has dwindled. BUT don’t forget that the light doesn’t actually return until the day after winter solstice.
So use this day to create a winter solstice ritual around honouring the deep, sacred darkness.
Use only candles to light your spaces for the day, starting with a candlelit breakfast, and finishing with candles by your bedside.
Taking less artificial light in through your eyes and skin will help attune you to this dark day – avoid reaching for the switch! And how about avoiding screens for a real challenge? You may find you do much less, and bedtime comes much earlier than normal… this is the point!
Invite Old Mother Dark into your life, She will offer you the rest and replenishment your body and soul needs.
2. Light a solstice fire
…. and make it into a ritual of release!
Gather some dry wood to burn and invite a few friends and neighbors around to join you.
Enjoy the sight, sound, and heat – winter solstice rituals are a celebration!
There is a unique beauty to every fire that’s lit. If you tend to get low moods in the winter season – if you often feel sad, depressed or drained – then try gathering in community around a fire. It’s a really powerful way to cultivate the hope and warmth to see us all through the colder, darker days.
When the fire dies down, you could follow the beautiful tradition of saving a piece of charred wood to start next years’ fire with (or even your Summer Solstice fire!)
Amp-up your connection to your solstice fire, by harnessing its transformational power.
Write down whatever you want to release onto small pieces of paper, and throw them into your winter fire. As they burn in the flames, know that you are energetically releasing whatever has been holding you back.
BUT: It’s really important NOT to just leave it there. You must “complete” the ceremony by inviting something new in, to replace what you have released. It could be love, courage, or openness to something better (if you’re not sure, this is a great fail-safe!) So write this down onto another piece of paper, and throw this into the fire too. As it burns, you’re sending the idea up and out to the Spirits, petitioning them to support you, as you manifest it into your life.
3. Make a holly crown
Celebrate the winter solstice by creating a holly crown to ward off evil and protect you from any negativity. The ancients used holly for its highly protective qualities, and often the boundary lines of old properties are marked by ancient holly trees – this isn’t an accident!
Decorating your home with prickly sprigs of holly is a great way to energetically protect it from negative energy…
And making a holly crown can be an even more potent symbol of protection against the many malevolent spirits lurking at this dark time of year. (Yes, it may be a little prickly to go careful when you wear it!)
In wintertime, when the bright red holly berries appear, many believe the Holly King is making an appearance. Together with his brother, the Oak King, the pair are said to be dual aspects of a single male deity, both vying for the attention of the Goddess. Other people claim the Holly King is an early pre-curser of Father Christmas… who really knows?
4. Make a Yule wreath
A beautiful visual symbol of the Wheel of the Year, Yule wreaths are often hung on doors, gateways, and portals between spaces.
Make your own using evergreen leaves, twigs, branches, and cuttings. (If wild foraging, ask permission from the plant before you cut!) Look for plants and trees such as pine, boxwood, cedar, holly, ivy, and magnolia.
The origins of the yule wreath are unknown, but some believe it was simply a way to use trimmings from trees that were being pruned (hmmmm…) Others trace the symbol back to Norse times, and make the connection to the Goddess Frigga and her spinning wheel.
5. Create an altar
Do you already have an altar in your home?
If you do, then re-curate, re-create, and re-design it to honor this season and this day in particular.
If altars are new to you then this is your chance to get creative, and try this life-affirming winter solstice ritual.
Suggestions for creating a winter solstice ritual altar –
- Greenery – ivy, holly, fir, pine, or other evergreen leaves to symbolize the eternal cycle of life
- Red, orange, yellow, and gold candles
- Fresh or dried oranges – to symbolize the fiery orange Sun
- Frankincense resin or oil
- Images, carvings, or statues of the Sun
- Bells – ceremonial tools for driving out negativity and clearing space
- Winter nuts – to symbolize the seeds of Mother Earth, buried in the dark soil.
6. Plant winter bulbs
Narcissi, crocuses, and tulips are great examples of bulbs you can plant at this cold time of year. As you bury your bulbs in the soil, set intentions for the things you want to grow in the next three, four, five and six months.
As the bulbs develop shoots, stems and finally bloom in the Springtime, they’ll serve as powerful little symbols of your own blossoming desires. This is a lovely way to set the pace for your own manifestations. And to provide a beautiful visual reminder of how possibility springs forth from the darkest times.
The Greek Goddess Persephone has a particular connection to the Narcissus flower.
According to her myth, as she reached down to pick a narcissus flower, the ground beneath her opened up and Hades appeared. He seized and kidnapped Persephone deep into the underworld below.
You can read more about Persephone HERE (scroll down).
Persephone is a Dark Goddess who rules over this time of year. Crowned Queen of the underworld, she teaches us about life and seasonal transitions, especially those involving shedding old skins and being reborn.
7. Bake bread or biscuits
There’s no better winter solstice ritual than baking! Baked goods are the perfect alchemical symbols of transformation – combinations of the four elements (water, air, fire, and earth).
As you add each ingredient, send a wish or intention into the bowl with it. Use the ancient art of kitchen witchery to summon the influence of the divine Mother. As you mix and stir, knead and bake, know that you are creating a powerful potion of intent! You are participating in a symbolic act of alchemy and creation – the beginnings of manifestation.
8. Drink mulled wine or cider with the people you love!
When solar light is at its lowest, it’s SO important to kindle our human connections. We need to gather up all the warmth we can! Mulling cider, apple juice, or wine with honey, orange juice, and zest, plus warming winter spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger are like a hug from the inside out.
9. Set an intention into a crystal
Use the power of our crystalline Earth to set an intention for what you want to manifest. This is a really simple hack and makes a beautiful (and quick) winter solstice ritual.
- Select a crystal. A small piece of quartz or citrine would be perfect. Make sure it’s a raw stones, not a tumble stone as these can’t be programmed).
- Cleanse it. You could use salt, moonlight, or simply hold it in your hand, and with intent state out loud that it’s clear and cleansed of all previous programs.
- Think about what you’d like to attract in the coming few months, perhaps up to the Spring Equinox or even Summer Solstice.
- Set your intention into the crystal. Do this by holding it in your hand, and saying out loud: ” I program this crystal to…”.
- Carry the crystal with you as a talisman, or place it on oyur altar.
Be careful – this is a powerful thing to do! It’s also important to remember to de-program your crystal. Unless you do this, it will keep on calling in what you’ve asked for indefinitely.
10. Stay up all night
Transform the entire nighttime into a winter solstice ritual.
Be there, ready and awake when the Sun rises in the morning to welcome back the light.
11. OR, go to sleep, and request a dream
As you drift off to sleep on the longest, darkest night of the year, invite the Spirits of sleep to bring you meaningful visions. Ask for a dream that will light your way through the next turn of the Wheel of the Year. Set the intention to dream the dream that you most need to see.
Remember to keep a pen and paper or a journal by your bedside, to write down what you recall, as soon as you wake up the morning.
12. Make offerings (the antidote to gift-giving)
Winter solstice is a wonderful time to make offerings to the nature spirits of your land.
Is there a beautiful tree you walk past every day? Or a favourite spot in the local park? A river bank where you swim in the summer?
All of these places in nature have guardians – Spirits and devas who keep these places holy and the grids intact. When sunlight and the temperature are so low, it’s an ideal time to honour these beings across the veil by leaving an offering.
Something handmade is often ideal. Here are some offering suggestions for this winter solstice ritual –
- A slice of your winter solstice cake
- A small beaded charm
- A crystal (maybe one you have already programmed with love and positive intent?
- A piece of honeycomb
- A piece of ribbon or fabric tied to a tree branch
- A mandala of stones, leaves, or shells
- Some incense or a lit candle
Making offerings to the land can be a really meaningful antidote to our western culture’s consumerist obsession. Forced on us by advertising, so many people get caught up in buying and giving gifts at this time of year. But how often does this modern Christmas tradition tip from generous gesture, to panic buying and giving because you think you “should”?
Sungazing should only be done at sunrise and/or sunset. This is because only rays of the lowest ultra-violet index are visible when you look through the Earth’s atmosphere (over the surface of the Earth, as opposed to up into the sky).
Be very careful, and just gaze for a few seconds at a time, unless you are well-practiced.
Sungazing is an ancient practice known to bring clarity and connection and is believed to help decalcify the pineal gland and reduce our dependence on food for energy. If you’re interested then seek out more information about this before leaping in! The documentary Eat the Sun is a great place to start.
But as a short winter solstice ritual, sungazing it can be a beautiful one-off practice to greet the Sun on the shortest day.
The Solstice is supposed to be a celebration!
Use these winter solstice ritual ideas as a starting point. You are invited to adapt, play and switch up any of them in ways that suit you and your family… and who knows, they could even mark the beginnings of some Solstice traditions of your very own!
Comment below what you’re doing to celebrate, we’d love to share your magic with you!