“Only in the deepest silence of night the stars smile and whisper among themselves.”
As we prepare for winter solstice, I like to share our family’s annual traditions and ritual processes. I’d also love to hear from readers in the comments with their own family traditions! We have celebrated the winter solstice together as our primary family ritual since 2003. There are several elements that remain constant from year to year and other elements that vary based on new ideas or projects that we decide to incorporate for that year.
The following is a brief explanation of three of our core traditions, which is then followed by a full ritual outline for a winter solstice ceremony! Make sure to read through to the end of my ritual outline for links to even more posts with further ideas and information.
Lots of us have a hard time figuring out holiday music. We want something that evokes the sound of Yuletide music from our childhoods but we don’t want to be forced to celebrate a religious experience that we don’t share. So here’s a short list of some Pagan Yuletide music that you can share!
After the second Battle of Moy Tura, Macha traveled throughout Ireland. “What news?” they would ask wherever she went, and this is what she told them.
Although there is no evidence that the Kelts of Bronze and Iron Age Ireland observed the winter solstice—unlike their Stone Age predecessors who raised New Grange—Macha's proclamation of peace has long seemed to me a fitting articulation of the hope—and promise—of Yule.
Last night, as I was preparing the altar for New Moon circle, there was a fretful energy in the house as my oldest kid retired to her room to study for her finals. It’s her first year in high school, and the sheer amount of material she'll be tested on next week, feels overwhelming to her. She took a break to go to her sister's holiday choir concert, and to hand me her wish list. But until her last paper is turned in next Thursday, the happy holiday season is deferred.
The altar is dressed in royal blue silk, with a deep blue candle and cobalt glass stars to symbolize the night sky, and also to honor Jupiter, ruler of Sagittarius, the generous God. As I listen to my kid groan over my computer, I am reminded that Sagittarius is a sign of learning and teaching, of professorship and the love of knowledge. I know that the joy of the upcoming Winter holiday season has so much to do with that Salutatorian optimism and joviality. I also know that that last push of school work, the ratcheting up of pressure to get all the work in on time, is not limited to my kids.
My continued exploration of homeliness*must also embrace this season of lengthening dark. At Mother Grove Goddess Temple this morning, the priestess led us in an exploration of this dark time and the importance of sitting in it, being in it, learning from it. In the guided meditation, I saw the remaining days in this intense agricultural year stretch before me like a long hallway. Or better—one of those collapsible spy-glasses that grew more dense as it stretched toward the Solstice.
In my spiritual tradition, we cheerfully refer to the months after the Green (Summer) Solstice as the Time of the Long Dying, and particular attention is paid to the few weeks after Samhain, the final Harvest. These are the weeks, the hours of the deepening dark, when messages from the unseen people are lessening in frequency but more potent, more desperate for a hearing.
To many, winter is a time when the grief of loss strikes hardest. The symbolic death of spring and summer combined with the cold have us turning inward, some seeking a spiritual hibernation.
For me, this grief has been compounded by my mother's December birthday. This year she would be turning sixty. One of my friends grieves both her parents today, while another sits in a hospital waiting for her mother's unconscious body to relinquish its hold after a stroke.
Sun and then rain and then sun and then rain. Everything is beautiful, fresh and green after a relatively dry June - the rain has finally come. Flocks of white sulfur-crested cockatoos careen in the morning shower, revelling in the morning light as the sun glints off their plumage. As the sun breaks through again, the breeze stirs the branches of the eucalypts causing heavy drops to shower down like diamonds. My tabby cat carefully pads his way through the weeds of my front garden, stopping to sniff a long green tendril and his coat shivers when the droplets leftover from the latest shower dribble onto his back.
This is winter solstice in Australia. Or one version of it, anyway.