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Embracing the Darkness | Celebrating Winter Solstice 2023

Happy Winter Solstice 2023!!

This is a most important time of year for those that are in tune with nature and the natural laws that govern our home we call Earth. Today, December 21, 2023, marks the Winter Solstice. A most fascinating astronomical event, which occurs every year on one specific day.

winter solstice 2023

The Winter Solstice is one of two most significant times of the year, with the other being the Summer Solstice. Why is this day significant? That’s because it marks the shortest day, with the most darkness. On this day, the sun: our light, and to some our creator, stays in the shadows. The sun is the warmth & the fire that which sparks all creation of life. Without the sun, you would not be reading this, nor would I have written this.

Within this article, I will delve into some ancient traditions of those who celebrated this time so famously and explore the  important aspects of which the winter solstice brings to all of us and what you can do during this sacred time to celebrate.

Let's go!

The best place to start, is the etymology of the words being used. We have “Winter” and “Solstice”.

Winter: “the fourth and coldest season of the year, winter,” from the root word of wet, water, probably meaning the wet season.

Solstice: of Latin meaning “sol” meaning the sun, and root word “sistere” meaning to pause / stand still.

Therefore, these two words would mean, the wet season, where the sun stands still.

And that is fact!

The sun on this day stands at its highest and lowest points in the sky and will pause in place. From here on out, moving toward the summer solstice of June 21, the sun will then rise earlier and set later in the day.

This is why on December 21, the Winter Solstice; is the day regarded as the shortest with the most darkness. The sun rises and sets at it latest times.

Ancient Origins: Those that celebrated the Winter Solstice most famously

winter solstice 2023 - ancient rome saturnalia

The Romans: who regarded this time of year as Saturnalia. The worshipping of the God Saturn. Saturn is the God of agriculture, abundance, time, generation, wealth, and peace. If you look closer, being the god of agriculture, and time, this is when they would observe the sun pausing, only to then rise again earlier and later, telling them that they will have another season for sowing and reaping. Think abundance, think wealth.

Following still?.....

Zoroastrianism: originating in what we call, of today, Iran. They saw this time as a triumph of the sun over the darkness. A time for family, charitable works, and new aspirations. (Now think about this day and age of charities/non-profits and their biggest time of year now with donations. As well, think about New Year's Resolutions)

And then we have, most famous of all (I'd say)….

winter solstice 2023 - Norse Yule traditions

Norse Vikings: we have Yule. A pagan festival and one of the oldest festivals of the winter celebrations. This is of Norse traditions, over thousands of years old. Their most important and celebrated time of year. They knew because of the long nights occurring, that raiding would not be their priority, rather, it was a time for family and friends and celebrating together with fine wine and good food. What brought the Norse together was honouring their Gods, especially Odin, their Father God.

The Old Norse word Jól (yule) was used to describe a feast, and Jólablót was a midwinter festival associated with the rebirth of the Sun. Blót or blot does not mean blood as many believe but means ritual sacrifice or worship. The verb blóta meant “to worship with sacrifice” or “to strengthen.” This could very well mean a variety of things. If you can imagine yourself back in their time, you'd understand that you'd probably be willing to sacrifice something (to see the sun again) to strengthen something else. (Perhaps their lands for farming, ability to raid successfully for the season coming, etc.)

Here are three interesting facts about the winter solstice with connections to ancient origins and myths:

  1. Winter Solstice Celebrations: Many ancient cultures marked the winter solstice with various celebrations and festivals. One of the most famous is the Roman festival of Saturnalia, dedicated to the God Saturn. During Saturnalia, social order was inverted, and people engaged in feasting, gift-giving, and revelry. Similarly, the Norse peoples celebrated Yule, a festival honouring the God Odin, with feasting that lasted for several days.

  2. Stonehenge Alignment: Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument in England, is aligned with the Winter Solstice sunrise. The monument's central axis aligns with the path of the rising sun during the Winter Solstice. It is believed that ancient people may have used Stonehenge as a sort of calendar or observatory to track the changing seasons, and the Winter Solstice held particular significance in their observations.

  3. Yule Log Tradition: The tradition of burning a Yule log has ancient origins. In medieval Europe, the Yule log was often a large, carefully selected log that was burned in the hearth to celebrate the Winter Solstice. The practice symbolized the return of light and warmth during the darkest days of winter. As the log burned, it was believed to bring good luck, protection, and prosperity to the household. Over time, the tradition evolved, and people began decorating and inscribing the log with various symbols. The Yule tree then has now been transformed into what we call today the Christmas tree.

These ancient customs and beliefs surrounding the Winter Solstice highlight the significance of this celestial event in shaping cultural practices and traditions throughout history.

Above all, this is a sacred time of the year (if you want to make it so) and with that, here are some ideas to celebrate this significant time in your own way.

  1. Meditation & Gratitude

  2. Giving (of gifts, donations to your favourite charity, etc.)

  3. Getting together with family and friends

  4. Reviewing your past year and how you can make new changes (habits) for the new year ahead

  5. Getting in touch with nature, getting outside to experience the darkness that is happening with the knowing that the sun is ready to rise again and will come each day more in abundance

To wrap things up, I implore you to research and learn about the Winter Solstice in your own time, as this is a significant and sacred day of each and every year.

I wish you a great Winter Solstice and Happy Yule!

And may you cross into the New Year with new aspirations and new knowledge of yourself and the world at large.


-- Spencer Dearing


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