Winter Solstice takes place on 20th or 21st December in the UK. It marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Since the festival of Samhain at the end of October, nature has been slowing down and it is a time to celebrate and honour this darkness. It’s a time to look back and reflect, clear away the old and consider the positive elements the year has brought us with gratitude. Maybe we long for summer days but the longest night reminds us that the Yule (wheel of light) is always turning.
The Celtic Wheel of the Year
‘Yule’ (or Jul) means wheel and in ancient times Celtic people understood that the wheel of light never stopped turning. This was reflected in the ritual burning of an ancient oak- a Yule log- which would burn through the night, symbolising the burning away of the old, making room for the new. If you've ever wondered how that chocolate cake got its name, now you know! Reviving this Celtic tradition is a wonderful practice in terms of meditation. You can visualise the fire blazing and destroying all that is not needed from this year, including thoughts and feelings we have outgrown and all that has been challenging. If you tune into the breath you will be able to feel that you are creating space for new ideas, dreams and aspirations. It’s a good time to journal about these ideas, let yourself dream and see where it leads you. If you have a real log fire, sit and watch it burn. You’ll be connecting to Celtic Winter Solstice traditions, stretching back through time, and this is very powerful.
Yoga for the Winter Solstice
Nature is also inviting us to slow down at this time, which can be very challenging if you are working in a job where your workload suddenly seems to increase so that Christmas deadlines can be met. When I worked in mainstream education, I felt tired and stressed trying to get ready for Christmas and do my job. Our modern society sometimes just does not understand how the seasons work and so we feel pressure. If you can schedule time off it’s very beneficial to do so. If you can’t, try to make sure you get more sleep as the nights get longer. Now is a time for quietness. Some animals naturally hibernate; bats, reptiles and even the smallest insects tune into this instinct, burrowing away into the hollows of old tree trunks, gathering resources and moving underground. In our yoga practice, we can also slow down and go within. As we see the bare trees, we witness that Earth has already done this and root energy is being strengthened in trees and plants. In terms of yoga, this means we can also focus on being grounded and strengthening the root chakra. The colour of this chakra is red and you may find it helpful to visualise this colour. It also ties in beautifully with the colours of Christmas!
The Spiritual Meaning of Winter Solstice
Winter has its own intelligence and living by the seasons as much as we can in the modern world can strengthen ours. If you can go outside in winter, make sure you do, even if for only a short time. If the weather is cold, wrap up warm and just stand there. Observe a winter scene and you’ll first notice the stillness and calm. Go out and look at an open field and the way the low light plays on the trees. Look at the blue and grey light if there is snow. Everything seems static but it you look closely you can also witness small changes. Perhaps a single leaf falls off a tree. Perhaps some ice is melting. Perhaps you can hear the gurgle of a small stream moving. This is my favourite winter meditation. It brings us back to the idea that nothing stays the same; everything is calm but it is actually still evolving. The old must die for the new to be born. This is how the wheel of the year keeps turning. Pagan people felt this and their rituals included honouring the god who harvested the wheat at Lammas and was sacrificed back to the land in the form of seed. If you long for the summer days you'll know they are on their way.
The symbolism of evergreen trees at Winter Solstice
Winter rituals can be very soothing and help us mark the passing of the year and understand each season is different and has something beautiful. Perhaps not many people will see our decorations this year, but most of us have still enjoyed putting them up. Bringing evergreen plants into the home was also part of traditional Winter Solstice celebrations and you might want to do this too. Traditionally, people would go and gather evergreens early in the morning of the 21st but realistically you might want to do it at the weekend. The chances are you may have already made or bought a wreath this year, but did you realise that the round shape is also a symbol of the wheel of the year, with no beginning and no end? After the darkest time, this is a reminder that the days will start to lengthen and we can look forward to a new season and dream a new dream. Holly represents life, and goodwill to others. It also represents open-heartedness. We can honour this in our yoga practice with poses that open the heart, poses like backends. You can also connect to the heart chakra and the colour green. Ivy represents freedom and the search for the self. It invites us to follow our own path and so in yoga we can strengthen our desire to do this with powerful poses like Virabhadrasana I, II and III.
The wheel is turning and the Winter Solstice is teaching us that we need to go inwards to truly understand what that means. Nothing is static and even though we may feel stuck with Coronavirus, still time is moving and everything is gradually changing. It's time to take stock and re-imagine what we want from our lives.
You gotta have a dream, if you don't have a dream,
How you gonna have a dream come true?
It may seem obvious but there's a lot of sense in the words from the 1958 musical. If you could create your innermost dream, do you know what it would look like?
This year has been hard for so many people in different ways but it has also taught us to do things differently and think outside the box. Maybe we can be more creative. On 21st December let's look back with gratitude, honour the dark, clear away the old and create space for the new. Dare to dream your own dream for 2021.
Highly recommended reading
Winter isn't an easy time for many people. If you suffer form SAD, this wonderful book may help. Joseph Cardillo mixes psychology and mind body medicine and offers a great deal of wisdom.
'THE FIVE SEASONS is a simple yet effective code for optimising the way you live. Based on the five universal seasons from traditional Chinese medicine as well as on Western psychology, THE FIVE SEASONS will teach you how to use the rising and falling energies of nature's seasons to train your mind and body to feel relaxed, energised and content - all year long. The formula is simple: change the way you process nature's energies and you will change your life'.
You will learn new, natural and fun ways to:
Boost your alertness
Know when conflict is beneficial
Deal with the ebb and flow of other people
Fight off mood swings and depression
Strengthen your decision making
Increase and pool your physical strength
Nurture your spirit