Winter Solstice Rituals
“Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.”
— Katherine May, Wintering.
Winter Solstice marks the shortest, darkest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. We celebrate Winter Solstice to mark the breaking point as we gradually shift from the cold to embrace the warmer, brighter days.
The cold season is associated with solitude. It is a period marked by contraction, stillness, and deep quiet. We may witness animals hibernating, and the natural decay of elements as the flora returns to the ground. It is a period to go inwards. Reflection, rest, and refinement in routine are the anchors as we conclude our cycle around the sun.
Winter Solstice is an invitation to go inwards. It is a time to mirror what we perceive in the natural world: solidify your plans, retreat into the silent longing of your heart, dim your lights and relish the privacy that comes with your exploration of the unseen realms.
A deep sense of longing, letting go, and release are attributed to this phase as the earth’s pole richest the furthest tilt away from the sun. The longest night is on December 21st, 2021. There are great lessons seeded in extremes, so trust in the sun’s eventual return as you enter the darkness.
Join the Practice with Clara Winter Solstice Daylong Retreat to embrace the light and celebrate the end of a cycle.
Get your free Winter Solstice eBook for the journaling prompts, yoga classes, Ayurvedic recipes, and astrology for the Winter Solstice Daylong Retreat.
A Brief History of Winter Solstice
The Winter Solstice has been celebrated for centuries across many cultures with festivals and rituals to honour the sun’s return. Winter Solstice was observed as early as the Neolithic period (the Stone Age), around 10,200 BC. Traditions, mythologies, and monuments have been constructed to honour the Winter Solstice, including Ireland’s Newgrange Stone Age Passage Tomb.
Newgrange is a passage and chamber that aligns with the sun’s rising on Winter Solstice. Newgrange dates back to 3,200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids. Archaeologists have classified Newgrange as an Ancient Temple and “a place of astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance.” — source.
Stonehenge is also assumed to have been a significant place for worship and ritual during the Winter Solstice. — source.
Learn more about Winter Solstice and how different societies have celebrated the return of the sun in this post.
Working with Winter Solstice Themes
During Winter Solstice, we are asked to clarify and set intentions for the coming months as the year comes to a close. December is the twelfth and final month. Setting resolutions and planning is a major motif. In the past, preparations during colder months would have been a safeguard against cold and starvation.
Where summer is bountiful, active, expressive, and upward-moving, winter is meagre, passive, dormant, and downward moving. The wintering months may lack an outwards expression of warmth, thus providing ample space to peruse the private, inner world. Now is the time to put your passions to paper and make a plan to breathe life into that little flame you carry inside of you.
The call during this phase is to go inside and create from the darkness. Winter is the perfect time to start a new project, commit to a hobby, and engage in the rituals that infuse our being with fervour. As the public sphere contracts with the cold, the private sphere may swell and percolate with the dormant ideas we’ve only visited in dreams.
Winter Solstice is also known as the hibernal solstice. Its name captures the restoration needed to ignite the fire within—without rest, we cannot assume the strength to move through the final few weeks of cold and slough off the stagnancy that comes with spring. The deep quietude that comes with the colder months is a space for the unconscious to dance; allow yourself the privilege of daydreams and secret musings!
4 Winter Solstice Rituals to Embrace the Light
Here are a few activities to honour the transition from the darkness during Winter Solstice.
- Warm the body through an Abhyanga massage.
Abhyanga is an ancient Ayurveda technique that involves oiling the body with almond or seed oil. This practice has a purifying effect on the body and mind as it leeches toxins and improves circulation. Other benefits of Abyhyanga include increased moisture to the skin, strengthening body tissue, lubricating joints and internal organs. See this Abyhanga Massage by Maria Garre for instructions on how to perform.
- Light candles.
Linger in the sweetness of the dark by candlelight. The flicker of the candle flame is symbolic of the transformation that occurs in the darkness. Light a candle to symbolize your desire or remember someone or something you’ve lost. Candles are a material expression of life, so consider all the ways you express and receive life as you sit by the flame. Take this meditation to connect to the transformative power of fire.
- Indulge in restful activities.
Wintering months are a time to slow down and luxuriate in repose and daydreams. Winter is stark and contrasts summer with yin energy. This phase is steeped in lessons that arise from within. Self-reflection marks winter as the world journeys down into its process to feel for what is next. Nothing will rise if we do not give the next phase of creating space to set its roots—meditation, study, writing, reading. Choose activities that express a place of rest. Read on to see the yoga classes on Practice with Clara that provide rest through yin/restorative yoga, Yoga Nidra, and mythology lectures.
- Ignite your inner fire with core strengthening exercises.
Connect to your inner strength with yoga classes that build deep core stabilizers. Gut health is essential to overall wellbeing, and a strong digestive fire (also known as Agni) helps digest food and experiences. Emotions live in the abdomen; the belly-brain is where you identify unprocessed emotions and connect to feelings. Fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, anger; all live in the gut. Yoga as a practice helps to relieve the mental and physical tensions that accumulate in the body and mind. Read this blog post for more insight on gut health, and check out the list of classes below on Practice with Clara to connect to your inner fire.
10 Yoga Classes for the Winter Solstice
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For centuries, we’ve honoured fire to symbolize life, enlightenment, and renewal. Fire is the ultimate purifier, destroyer, and provoker of change. As we move through the darkness and cold of the winter months, we look to the light within to persevere.
Learn more about Ignite Yoga Challenge.