Among the frenzy and flurry of Christmas, you’re probably aware that we're also about to arrive at the Winter Solstice - December 21st, the shortest day of the year, also known as Midwinter or The Longest Night. It’s a deeply spiritual time of balance and change, and there are a number of ways you can honour it.
In Celtic and Pagan tradition, Winter Solstice and the traditional ‘Christmas’ are a part of one twelve-day midwinter festival called Yuletide. Yuletide, or Yule, is intended to commemorate the shifting or the ‘reawakening’ of nature, as the longest night falls over the northern half of the world, and the days begin to slowly lengthen.
The honouring of the Winter Solstice actually dates back as far as 3300BC and possibly further. At Newgrange in County Meath in Ireland - an important spiritual site even to this day - an ancient underground cairn is directly illuminated by the sun at sunrise every year on the Winter Solstice, strongly suggesting that our ancestors designed it for this purpose. So when we celebrate this sacred time, we’re continuing a tradition that’s endured for millenia.
Here are a number of ways that you can honour the Winter Solstice today, along with some book recommendations for further reading.
Share the ancient tale of the Holly King and the Oak King
The enduring legend of the Holly King and Oak King has been shared around hearths and bonfires for centuries. In Celtic lore, the Holly King is the nature deity that rules over the winter months, and the Oak King is his summer counterpart. The legends vary, but many of them involve these two kings battling each other all year long, with the Holly King de-throning the Oak during Summer Solstice as the days grow shorter and colder. Conversely, Winter Solstice is when the Oak King wins back his throne and starts to bring back longer, warmer days. While this tale is often one of battle, it’s widely believed that the Holly King and the Oak King are two parts of the same whole, and that neither could exist without the other. Either way, it’s a fun and riveting tale to share this Winter Solstice.
Read more about Celtic wisdom and lore in
Winter nature communion
It’s common for people to lose touch with nature over the winter months, choosing to stay indoors in the warmth away from the ice and frost and snow. Winter Solstice is the perfect time to go out and re-connect with nature. Go for a walk through the stripped-back forest, have a play in the snow, or go ice-skating on a frozen lake. Gather up winter plants, such as holly, heather, thyme, snowberry, winter berry and more. Take time to thank the natural world for providing gifts even in the harsh winter months, and seed spells of hope for a fruitful spring to come.
Read more about gathering plants and herbs in
The Boreal Herbal
Create a Yule altar
Your winter nature communion is the perfect chance to gather items for a seasonal Yule altar. If you’re a practising Wiccan or Pagan, you’ll be familiar with the idea of a magical altar, which we wrote about in a previous post here. It’s common to change your altar depending on the season or relevant Wheel of the Year festival. For Yule, decorate your altar with festive colours of red, green, silver and gold. Gather evergreen plants like pine, fir, juniper and cedar. Let a bowl of snow slowly melt on your altar, symbolising this powerful time of change and transformation. You can even include sun symbols, like sun wheels and yellow candles, to summon back the sun.
Read more about Wiccan practices in
Fire is an important element during Midwinter. It helps to keep us warm and illuminate the long nights, and also symbolises the return of the sun. This is a perfect time to practice candle magic, and how you do so will be up to your personal practice. You might perform a candle spell or ritual to bless the coming warmer longer days. You might perform a gratitude ceremony to thank the powers that be for the year that’s been. This is also a powerful time for cleansing and healing, so you might turn to candle magic to heal any wounds you might have suffered during the year and to clear the path ahead for a new year. Whatever ritual you choose, candle magic will be particularly potent at this time of year.
Read more about candle magic in
A Little Book of Candle Magic
On that note, this is an ideal time for setting intentions. Like many people set New Year Resolutions, Winter Solstice encourages us to pause, reflect and look ahead. Throughout the year, we might have lost track of our goals and intentions, so now is the time to re-direct our energies again. You might choose to write your intentions down into a diary or notebook, or place your notes on your magic altar to imbue them with spiritual energy. You might want to get together with family and friends to share your goals and intentions with each other, and discuss how you might be able to help each other on your spiritual journeys throughout the next year.
Whichever way you choose to celebrate the Winter Solstice, this is a powerful time to harness the transformative energies of the shifting seasons. Most of all, be sure to relax, enjoy and celebrate the natural world and all her many gifts. From us to you, happy Yule and Midwinter blessings!