This time of year is steeped in tradition—those of our family, our religion, our community. As if by rote, we bring out the decorations, put up the tree, hang the lights, sings the songs, and eat the foods that are our customs.
But, do they still resonate with us? Do they fill our hearts in the same way each year? Or do we simply drag the traditions out of storage like we do our winter sweaters, with no thought if they fit well anymore?
This year’s Winter Solstice was welcomed in by a grand lunar display of fullness and eclipse. Bright silver light heralded the arrival of winter, then dimmed briefly in genuflection to the planetary procession.
This year’s Winter Solstice arrived loudly—for me anyhow. It said: TRY THIS ON. SEE HOW THIS FITS.
Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year and the beginning of winter. It announces the season that includes not only the traditions of Christmas and Hanukkah, but ancient customs that celebrate the earth, the sun, the Universe—the natural and organic comings and goings of life.
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“The Solstice is a time of quietude, of firelight, and dreaming, when seeds germinate in the cold earth, and the cold notes of church bells mingle with the chimes of icicles. Rivers are stilled and the land lies waiting beneath a coverlet of snow. We watch the cold sunlight and the bright stars, maybe go for walks in the quiet land.… All around us the season seems to reach a standstill — a point of repose. Then, as the Solstice sun moves across the heavens, the new year wakes, the darkness is dispelled, the days grow longer, and we prepare for new beginnings.”
The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas, by John Matthews, Caitlin Matthews
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In the spirit of the new season, and new beginnings, my friend Tara and I gathered on Tuesday night for a Winter Solstice Celebration. We shared a meal and quiet conversation. We drank champagne by light of the now-waning moon and rang bells to celebrate the arrival of winter. We lit sparklers, and laughed, and read poems of praise for the sun, the harvest, good friends, and the year ahead.
It was fun and foreign and new.
It connected to a deep and wonderful place in my heart.
And it fit.
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A Sunset Prayer for Yule
The longest night has come once more,
the sun has set, and darkness fallen.
The trees are bare, the earth asleep,
and the skies are cold and black.
Yet tonight we rejoice, in this longest night,
embracing the darkness that enfolds us.
We welcome the night and all that it holds,
as the light of the stars shines down.
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Photo of lunar eclipse reprinted here with profuse gratitude to the charming Greg Sammons. You can see more of his work here.