The winter solstice which falls on or around December 21, marks an important milestone. It’s the shortest day of the year and the longest night of the year, signaling a powerful transition point between seasons.
“Solstice” comes from two Latin words: sol meaning “sun” and sistere meaning “to stand still” because it appeared as though the sun and moon had stopped moving across the sky.
Other names are “midwinter,” the “extreme of winter,” or the “shortest day.”
The birth of Jesus at the solstice is symbolic of the birth of the spiritual sun within, that we are not separate from our Creator, as we have been conditioned to believe to feel that we are less than divine.
Many visit Stonehenge in UK and Newgrange in Ireland for Solstice festivals.
St. Thomas is known for his doubts, and for demanding physical proof of the wounds of Christ’s Crucifixion. He was the first person to explicitly acknowledge the divinity of Jesus.
St. Thomas died on December 21, 72, in Mylapore, India.
This was traditionally the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle; his feast is now celebrated on July 3rd.
St. Thomas day, St. Thomas gray,
The longest night and shortest day.
In Tyrol and in parts of Canada, this was considered “pie day,” with meat pies baked for the family, then cooled and frozen. The pies are saved for the feast of the Epiphany, and are thawed, reheated, and eaten.
In England, this was a day of charity, when the poor women went a “Thomasing” or begging. Wheat was cooked and distributed for the poor.
A seven-day celebration culminates every year on December 21, when many Christians in Guatemala observe Saint Thomas’ Day in honor of Thomas the Apostle.
Celebrate doubts, questions, concerns. Discuss with family, friends, or a prayer group.
A lovely lesson from Kennedy Adventures.
It’s natural and normal to feel a little down this time of year.
Many of us feel the loss of loved ones more poignantly during the holidays. Some struggle with all the hustle and bustle and commercialism. Mental illness becomes sharper with all the holiday expectations.
There are many quiet and dimmed “Blue Christmas” services and meetings for those who are depressed, lonely, traumatized, or just want something different than the joyful and bright holiday events.
The winter solstice represents the seasonal “dark night of the soul.”
We are a reflection of the universe that surrounds us. What takes place outside of us, must also take place within us.
The Dark Night of the Soul (from Spanish) by Saint John of the Cross
Once in the dark of night,
Inflamed with love and yearning, I arose
(O coming of delight!)
And went, as no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep repose
All in the dark went right,
Down secret steps, disguised in other clothes,
(O coming of delight!)
In dark when no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep repose.
And in the luck of night
In secret places where no other spied
I went without my sight
Without a light to guide
Except the heart that lit me from inside.
It guided me and shone
Surer than noonday sunlight over me,
And led me to the one
Whom only I could see
Deep in a place where only we could be.
O guiding dark of night!
O dark of night more darling than the dawn!
O night that can unite
A lover and loved one,
Lover and loved one moved in unison.
And on my flowering breast
Which I had kept for him and him alone
He slept as I caressed
And loved him for my own,
Breathing an air from redolent cedars blown.
And from the castle wall
The wind came down to winnow through his hair
Bidding his fingers fall,
Searing my throat with air
And all my senses were suspended there.
I stayed there to forget.
There on my lover, face to face, I lay.
All ended, and I let
My cares all fall away
Forgotten in the lilies on that day.
Sing the carol: “In the Bleak Midwinter.”
Music: “Cranham,” Gustav Theodore Holst, 1906. Words: Christina Georgina Rossetti, 1872.
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
Celebrate the Light
In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year. It will probably be dark outside by 4 PM, which can feel a little depressing. It’s no surprise for many cultures, taking advantage of the light is so important on this day.
The seaside city of Brighton in the UK has an annual Burning of Clocks festival. People wear costumes representing clocks and the passage of time carry lanterns made of wood and paper to the beach, where the lanterns are burned in a huge bonfire, symbolizing the wishes, hopes, and fears that will be passed into the flames.
In the town of Penzance, people wear carnival costumes, “guisers” parade with lanterns, creating a “river of fire” meant to celebrate the return of the sun.
Try to get outside while it’s still light out to connect with nature.
Take a walk, go for a hike, bundle up and enjoy your coffee, tea, or cocoa while sitting outside for a little bit.
We like to drive around and look at light displays.
Once the sun goes down, turn off all the electric lights and spend a moment or the rest of the evening in darkness.
After you’ve honored the sun’s light, light some candles with loved ones. It’s a great night for Hygge.
Bonfires are common on this night to chase away the darkness. Oak logs are traditional at Yule feasts.
Cleanse, purge, donate, and volunteer. Helping others is an ancient solstice custom, and is not just limited to modern Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious members.
Watch all through the night. Attend a prayer service or watch the stars and sky. Contemplate and meditate. Welcome back the light of dawn.
Reflect and think about how you might recreate yourself in the new year.
Renewal. Write down things you want to let go of, then toss the paper into the fire as a symbol of release.
Bell ringing is traditional. Attend a bell choir concert or sing Jingle Bells with bells and tambourines.
The orange is a symbol of the return of the sun. Make orange pomanders to celebrate the solstice and decorate and freshen the home for the holidays. Lots of amazing citrus sales this week in stores! Now you know why.
Make sun ornaments.
Make “snowball cookies” – fun, easy treats like Danish wedding cookies.
Decorate with evergreens, berries, and natural elements.
Read books about the solstice.
You might also like:
- Hope in the Dark
- Blue Christmas
- Holiday Blues
- Introvert Holiday Survival Guide
- Celebrating Holidays During Deployment
- Celebrating the Lights of Hanukkah
- Dark Night of the Soul Step Sheet from Practicing the Way
- Hope in Darkness Summary from Center for Action and Contemplation
- Dark Night of the Soul by Contemplative Monk
- What is the “Dark Night of the Soul”? by Mark Cowper-Smith