Winter Solstice rituals, traditions and history of the shortest day of the year

Today is the shortest day of the year. As the Earth tilts to its furthest point from the Sun, the Northern Hemisphere will experience the longest night of the year. However, this means the days will gradually be getting lighter from here on. For millennia, communities have marked the significance of this day with rituals and traditions to express gratitude for the past year and set our intentions for the year ahead. Here are five fun rituals you can do at home to celebrate the solstice.

Whether you consider yourself to be spiritual or not, the longest night of the year may well give us all pause for thought.

Today, December 21, is the shortest day and longest night of the year.

Known as the Winter Solstice, from this point on our days will begin to get longer again, until the Summer Solstice on June 22, 2021: the longest day of the year.

Many cultures and traditions around the world have honoured the Winter Solstice, marking the symbolic death and rebirth of the sun, and today many would ordinarily keep those traditions alive by heading to Stonehenge.

However, you can also recreate some traditions at home to mark the occasion of the Winter Solstice and embrace the special spiritual significance of this day.

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Aysha Bell, healing space creator and meditation facilitator, said: “This time of darkness encourages us to gather amongst loved ones and celebrate the rebirth and return to the light.

“In winter, everything lies dormant: it is a sacred time of rest and reflection before the awakening and the slow build toward brighter days.

“The energy of winter is that of going within a good time for reflecting, cleansing and manifesting.”

Kristy Lomas, founder of The Ki Retreat and an intuitive Healer & a multi-disciplined therapist, adds: “Nothing spreads festive cheer quite like decorating the Christmas tree, sending gifts to loved ones, yule logs, mistletoe, mulled wine, feasts with family & of course Santa himself!

“All of these festive favourites are actually based on the pagan tradition of Winter Solstice, which celebrates the return of the sun.

“Yule is about gratitude and hope. During this time of year we let go and release the struggles and hardships we have gone through during the darker half of the year, so we can make space to welcome the sun, and lighter times back into our lives.”

Feast with loved ones

Celebrating the winter solstice could be as easy as enjoying a cosy dinner with your family.

Kristy Lomas said: “Traditionally, Winter Solstice was a time to gather together in gratitude with loved ones. It provides the perfect reason to reconnect and celebrate.

“Prepare warm, wholesome food that reminds you of winter such as root vegetables.”

Connect with nature by making a wreath

Many of our yuletide traditions, such as hanging wreaths, branches and even our Christmas trees, originate from traditional solstice celebrations.

Making a wreath can be a mindful and creative way to celebrate the solstice.

Kristy said: “Create your own wreath by using evergreens you find on a walk.

“Evergreens are a symbol of protection and prosperity. The green of the wreath, during the starkness of winter, served as a reminder that spring is just around the corner, and the days will become warmer and lighter.

“The mindful practice of making the wreath helps us to feel more connected to nature and more grounded.”

Light a candle

Traditionally, bonfires and candles were lit to mark the solstice.

Aysha said: “It was typically marked by Celtic, Slavic and Germanic people by lighting bonfires, intended to boost the sun’s strength for the remainder of the crop season and ensure a healthy harvest.”

You can embrace those traditions in your own home this year, creating a beautiful atmosphere for mindfulness.

Kristy said: “Fire and candles are central to celebrating winter solstice. Solstice is also the longest night of the year, and it gives us the chance to pause and reflect, before the rebirth in spring.

“Either on a table, or on your yule altar, place yellow, gold or orange candles in a circle (in the shape of a sun).

“Then place any other candles you feel drawn to around these in a varied pattern. Light the “sun” candles first, then the others.”

Take this moment to reflect and meditate on things you’re grateful for, as well as what you wish to manifest for the coming year.

Celebrate gratitude

You can celebrate gratitude by meditating on your accomplishments over the last year and expressing thanks for any good fortune you’ve enjoyed this year.

Writing down things you are thankful for can be a meditation exercise if you light some scented candles or burn some essential oils while penning your thanks.

Some people also choose to make a donation of whatever they can afford to those less fortunate, as an act of giving back to the community and sharing their wealth.