Its the run up to Christmas and as the hustle and bustle goes on around me, I take time to reflect on why we celebrate Christmas? As I sit in my sister’s flat in Vancouver with her two young kids (ages nearly 1 & 4) I know that Christmas in this house hold is for them, especially as little Louis turns one on Boxing day and it’s a white Christmas already.
For the past few years I have avoided the West and had peaceful Christmas’ without consumerism, presents, films, excessive food….or family :-(. However being in Vancouver this year, a city that is fresh and vibrant with yoga and healthy living as a priority, it’s inspired me to look at how this time of year can be a celebration of upcoming light, nature, family, community and the abundance of everything we have already in the west. As the longest darkness day of the year approaches and the end of the Mayan calendar, it is a day that has been celebrated across the globe by different cultures for thousands of years. Winter solstice (solstice stands for ‘Sun stands still’) is the start of the solar year, celebration of light & the re-birth of the Sun. This is a traditional time to celebrate truly important things in your life; your passion, family, Children, friends, home and to look forward to a wonderful year to come.
Around this time there is an old Pagan tradition called Yule, which honours love and new birth, as well as the collective unity of humanity. Many of the rituals from Yule were adopted by Christians into the celebration of Christmas. Just as Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, Yule celebrates the birth of the sun god – child of the goddess in the Pagan belief system. This to me seems a good reason to celebrate Christmas, rather than the increasingly commercialised version on offer!
Through the darkness there is always light, when life throws its obstacles at us we can shield ourselves by turning deep inside, like a turtle protected by its shell. Darkness exists, as without it, there would be no light. There would be no opportunity to find the strength that dwells deep within us, to touch the face of compassion, to understand that we need not fear the darkness. For it allows us to find the inner light, and in understanding this, we find the path to wisdom that only comes through our comprehension, that darkness dwells so can we find the true light that resides within. Our practices help us stay in touch with this light, its this light that guides us through the darkest times & brightens our journey at other times, once found it is never lost as it is part of who we are & the gift we bring to others.
So on the shortest day of the year why not create your own Winter Solstice celebration, leaving behind modern day madness of shopping, shopping, shopping. Instead go back to your roots, to nature & create a Solstice to suit your heart, friends & family.
Maybe make and bake your gifts for one another, choose your favourite woods or space indoors or outdoors, pick a time of day when the light is just right, enjoy your favourite food & bake a cake decorated with a Sun. Then create the atmosphere by lighting candles, these symbolise light & create a circle, each person could light a candle and say something they are grateful for & something they wish for another person. Create an offering for nature around you, the birds, the bees, the trees and all animals in nature. Talk about how offering food to the animals connects us and makes us grateful for our place in nature. Join into the community intentional power to spread support for a new cycle of love, peace and rebirth.
Winter Solstice rituals and celebrations serve to remind us not to become fully engulfed by darkness, but rather choose to understand it and the gift it can bestow. To recognise that this darkness is not just the physical darkness of winter, but also the darkness that creeps into our minds, clouds our vision.
I will leave you with one of the oldest mantras from the Upanashads. Happy Solstice celebrations!
asato ma sadgamaya
tamaso ma jyotirgamaya
mrtyorma amrtam gamaya
Lead me from Untruth to Truth
Lead me from Darkness to Light
Lead me from Death to Immortality
(Brhadaranyaka Upanishad — I.iii.28)
Some tips for your your ceremony are below:-
- Indoors or outdoors?
- Time of celebration?
- Food important part of celebrations – favourite food or pot luck
- Candles & bake a cake decorated with a sun. You could put candles on the cake & each family member blows one out. They symbolise light
- Gather in a circle around the candles & each person light a candle & all say something you are grateful for or something they wish for another person the following year.
- Story telling around a fireplace around a fire place or bonfire or in the dark.
- Create an offering for nature around us, the birds, the bees, the trees & all animals in nature. Talk to your kids about how offering food to the animals connects us & makes us grateful for our place in nature.
- Yule wreaths, logs and trees are other familiar aspects of solstice celebrations. Wreaths can represent both the family circle and the cycle of seasons. Making one from natural materials that you collect can be a meaningful and enjoyable activity. While you work, you can discuss the meaning of the various customs, or each friend or family member can share something they appreciate about each other or about winter.
- Yule trees are ideally living and each person make a ornament, decoration for the tree.
- Gifts are traditional, why not think about what you could make for one another rather than buy, maybe nature themed. Or give the gift of your time & presence with the people closest to you.
- Hold hands at the end of the ceremony in a circle & focus on the joys of friendship & family.