The Winter Solstice falls in the heart of the winter on the shortest day and the longest night of the year. This special festival is an opportunity in our busy lives to put aside some time to pause, to appreciate the stillness and rest that is the gift of midwinter, to reflect on the old year that is finishing and to look forward with hope for the new year about to begin. It is a time of coming together, of sharing, and appreciation of all we have. It is also a celebration of our connectedness - to our family and friends, and to the Earth and her cycles. Create your own family traditions as you explore the traditions from our ancient past.
* The eve of Winter Solstice is a special time for a dusk walk with the family - especially good if you see the sun go down in the South West (around 3.45pm). Experience the gathering dark, away from street lighting but make sure that as the light fades it is an easy route to return home or to your car.
* Alternatively get the family up before dawn on Solstice morning. Make it exciting and special, with special candles of their own to light at the breakfast table and a bowl of coloured ribbons. Each chooses three to take with them. Go somewhere that faces the South East to watch the Solstice sunrise, or the lightening of the sky if it is cloudy. (Sunrise is around 8am.) Tie your ribbons onto a tree - each one a new intention for the new year: one for the Earth; one for your family; and one for yourself.
* Invite everyone to gather for a Solstice celebration. All bring food to share, drums, instruments and percussion, and a story to tell. This brings an exciting sense of a tribal gathering as you all drum, entertain and eat together.
* Light a fire (inside or out) and pass round a basket of sticks, to represent something you wish to let go of from the old year. Saying this out loud gives it strength as each throws their stick in the fire.
* Lighting candles for the 'Return of the Sun' is an old tradition at this time, as is making resolutions to begin the new cycle. All sit around a single candle in a large bowl of sand, with all lights off. Each lights a candle and pushes it in the sand, and names their new intentions.
Traditionally evergreens are brought into the house at the Solstice. Garden bushes can be pruned, or sensitive guerilla pruning undertaken. Always remember to cut with respect for the plant and the land and to leave berries for the birds.
* The Solstice Bush
Having rejected the idea of bringing a cut tree into the house for decorating, our family has much enjoyment on Solstice morning, going out to gather greenery to make a Solstice bush. You will need a few sturdy branches (either evergreens or bare twigs) to give it form, anchoring them into a pot of wet soil or large jug of water and rocks. This creates a counter balance to the weight of the twigs. Wrapped homemade sweets and small natural decorations can be created and hung from it.
There is an old tradition of making wheels of evergreens, within which you anchor your hopes and dreams for the new cycle. It may take the form of a wreath to hang on the door, or it may be laid horizontally with places for candles. Add sparkly beads to catch the light and hold a wish.