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Winter Solstice

snowy winter landscape
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Written by Tracey Biebel

On or around December 21st, the earth experiences the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. The sun shines on us for the fewest hours of any other day of the year. The further away from the equator you live, the more you feel this shift.

Sunlight has a remarkable effect on the earth and its beings. As fall arrives, and the hours of sunlight decline, the coziness sets in. Boots, sweaters, tea, crunchy leaves, cozy fires — all signal a time to hunker down, hibernate a bit. For me, it is all a countdown to the Winter Solstice which marks the return of the light. Every day after that we get a bit more of the sun’s rays. Phew. I NEED those rays!

My family celebrates a secular version of Christmas. We place a sun on top of our tree to represent the return of the light. We have incorporated Santa into our family tradition (because the magic of that is just plain fun!). I enjoy Christmas. However, for me, Christmas began to feel empty. So, about 6 years ago, we began to celebrate Solstice too.

It has become my favorite winter celebration.We (my 7 and 10 year old children and I) start the day with an outdoor adventure, like a hike. We often make a point of collecting some pieces of nature to bring home and get crafty with later…fairy house building, art creating, wreath making, whittling, sanding, burning (making fires is fun). We talk about the earth and its importance to our survival. The symbiotic relationship we have with the earth. How she provides us with a place where we can thrive. We give thanks to mother earth for what she offers us.

We take time to notice the light, to notice the plants that are sleeping, the animals that are harder to find now than in the summer. We take time to connect with one another. To walk silently at times, listening to the quiet, to the rain (we do live in Port-land, after all).

When we return home we like to build and light a fire. Getting cozy, having a snack, some warm tea and reading a book out loud. The Little House series is a favorite. They lived close to the land. They felt the changes the seasons brought. They looked for-ward to the return of the light. We also take time to talk about and write down our wishes for the year ahead. A few years ago we made stands for our wishes out of a found branch. We cut the branch into rounds, sanded, bees-waxed, and cut a slit into each one to hold index cards. Then we place our cards in those holders so we can remember and re-visit our wishes throughout the year.

As the day gets darker, we like to light wish paper to make more wishes and send them off into the air.

The Unitarian Church in downtown Portland has a solstice celebration we like to attend. The warmth of the church, the people dressed in fleece and wool, hats and boots, welcoming the sun back with open arms, is comforting. I appreciate this ritual, as do my children.

Solstice has been celebrated for eons. The roots of the other winter holidays can be tied back to the ancients welcoming back the light, hopeful for the rebirth of the plants and trees, for fresh foods to return to their tables, for the animals to return from their winter retreats. For me, this time of year is a wonderful opportunity to feel closer to the earth, to remember how connected we truly are to the natural world. For me, Solstice is a calm

About the author

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Tracey Biebel