Baby it’s cold outside.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the days are dimming, Yule is neigh and the winter solstice, the proverbial long night of the soul, is at hand. The exact date and time of the solstices vary from year to year but in 2022 the winter solstice falls on December 21 at 4:48 EST.
In technical terms, the winter solstice marks the beginning of winter and the point of the year when the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky, directly above the Tropic of Capricorn.
Solstice is a marriage of the Latin words for “sun” and “to stand still,” and the winter solstice equates to the shortest day and longest night of the year. Winter’s sunburned, popsicle stained sister, the summer solstice, celebrated on or around June 21st, coincides with the longest day and shortest night of the year. Betwixt the two we observe the spring and autumn equinoxes wherein sunlight and night are evenly distributed.
Celebrating the solstice
Celebrating the solstices and equinoxes is among the oldest traditions known to man, right up there with storytelling and burying the dead. Since we first crawled out of the cave, the winter solstice has heralded a time to retreat back to it, to consider what is lost with the frost and what is promised by spring. The longest night offers a chance to reflect on the year that has passed and cast an eye and a lantern towards brighter days ahead.
During this time, we are called to imitate the sun at it stand still. You can think of the solstice as the celestial New Year, a time for introspection, cleansing and planting purpose, just as the sun is reborn on the solstice so too can we be. An excerpt of the poem “Shortest Day” by Susan Cooper, distills the ancient echo and enduring sentiments of the solstice:
So the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow‐white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us ‐ listen!”
Listen indeed, quiet your mind, squint into the sun, welcome the cold and read on to learn more about how to celebrate the winter solstice.
Food is in itself a sacrifiical offering of land and labor. Honor the longest night by preparing a meal that incorporate seasonal and warming ingredients like roasted game, apples, cloves, cinnamon, rosemary, sage and saffron. Make a cup of strong tea or spiked cider. Gather round the ones you love and give thanks, trade stories, empty bottles, pass plates and ride high on breaking bread and being alive.
Honor the sun on its day of minimal shine by setting aside time to watch it rise and set. Whether you are an urban dweller or a county denizen, be an active disciple of nature and seek out a park or preserve where you can be humbled by it. Bundle up, breathe deep and collect branches, pine cones and any other natural artifacts/winter foliage to decorate your home or solstice altar.
If we conceive of the winter solstice as the spiritual beginning of a new year, we can get right with that energy by clearing our spaces of clutter, maudlin mementos, our exes tax returns, stale spices, expired canned goods and all other damnable detritus. You can also apply this purge energy to the corporeal space of your own body, drink some bone broth, salute the sun with a walk in the wilderness, drink a detox tea and wash your godd***n sheets. In the spirt of expulsion and welcoming, and on two separate pieces of paper, write down what you want to leave behind and/or rid yourself of and what you want to invite into your life in the new year to come. With these in hand, proceed to the next step.
Setting s**t on fire is a universal way to honor the gods, the dead and the passage of time. In relationship to the solstice, bonfires were traditionally lit to keep the bad spirits at bay during the extended evening hours. A bonfire also burns with the intention of ushering the light of the sun back into the sky. Whatever your spiritual practice, the purifying properties of smoke and the warmth of firelight are an excellent way to welcome winter and the new year ahead. If you don’t have access to a pit, pyre or fireplace, you can still honor the tradition with candlelight, smoke cleansing and the ritual reading/burning of your written solstice intentions.
Astrology 101: Your guide to the stars
Astrologer Reda Wigle researches and irreverently reports back on planetary configurations and their effect on each zodiac sign. Her horoscopes integrate history, poetry, pop culture and personal experience. She is also an accomplished writer who has profiled a variety of artists and performers, as well as extensively chronicled her experiences while traveling. Among the many intriguing topics she has tackled are cemetery etiquette, her love for dive bars, Cuban Airbnbs, a “girls guide” to strip clubs and the “weirdest” foods available abroad.