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Touching Souls on Winter Solstice

by Eve Wilson

My richest memories of Winter Solstice and the holiday season are of a nature oriented tradition I adapted from a Waldorf School ceremony for. It became a favorite annual activity, shared with other families, many of whom had different religious or cultural traditions for this season. Our older children loved it too! I’m now an empty nester with only you to share my favorite seasonal pastime with. That’s all right; these memories are so nourishing, they will sustain me until grandchildren! Meanwhile, perhaps I can inspire you to create beautiful memories with your children and grandchildren too.

Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year; and when the world is dark and cold, we may find our own inner light can shine more brightly. This is an important metaphor for handling any challenging seasons of our soul and our world. So when creating a ceremony for this season, I used candles to remind the children of their own inner light; they shine so beautifully in the dark. Winter Solstice occurs on Saturday December 21st this year, at 12:11PM, so you could celebrate on Friday night but Saturday would work too.

We learned at the Detroit Waldorf School to make swinging candle holders from sturdy found sticks, connected by wire to the necks of small jars, then covered with torn patches of colored tissue paper stuck on with Elmer’s glue. Into these we placed tea candles to create a beautiful soft glowing lantern light. We asked everyone to bring their own jar and one person brought sticks and wire. Someone brought pine cones with yarn hoops for hanging, to roll in peanut butter and bird seed as gifts for the wild birds and animals. While the children were making their candle holders and pine cone feeders, we sang holiday songs that the children knew from their family traditions, as well as some musical rounds, which were fun. Into this easy atmosphere I would introduce the idea of winter solstice and how when the night is long, we can seek the light within our own hearts and let it grow. We’d also talk about evergreen trees and how they stay alive and green all winter and even warm the earth enough to melt snow, providing a place for the birds and animals when it is cold. Depending on the group I might talk about the birth of Christ or stories from other traditions for this season.

We had a fire in the hearth and candles; and the smell of warming spiced apple cider, which we would enjoy before we left the house.

The first two years, my daughter was very young, so I oriented the celebration to small children, but three families had 10-13 yr. old boys that came too and participated with great enthusiasm and happy hearts. It was such a privilege to share this with them! It felt very joyful and sacred; all of our souls were touched.

In those first years, we would get our warm clothes on, turn off the lights and light our swinging lantern candles. We would be a glowing snake of lanterns walking around our ½ acre yard to a big evergreen tree in the back where we hung the pine cones on the branches. We surrounded the tree and each called out our love and wishes or prayers for the birds, animals and trees to have plenty to eat this winter. When the children wanted to sing to the tree, we let them pick songs that fit their mood. Then we snaked our swinging lights back around the yard and re-entered the warm, dimly lit house to cozy smells of wood fire and hot spiced cider; it felt magical. We’d finish with holiday treats from various traditions that people brought, eating in satisfied, happy company.

As the children matured we ventured further afield, asking the local nature center to open their gates for us after dark. We’d scout ahead of time to determine the tree and the location we’d be trekking to through the night. It was a joy and an adventure to be out together walking in the dark but familiar woods. We’d bring candles with foil wrapped around the base to catch drips and light them we got to our tree. Walking back through the dark we’d stop to eat our treats and warm drinks sitting in the outdoor theater. One Solstice we went to a beautiful county park during the afternoon for a hike and together chose a huge old evergreen to adorn with our pine cones and other treats for the wildlife. The older children still enjoyed wishing the natural world a good winter season and thanking the evergreen for staying green and alive all season long; as well as acknowledging their own inner light.

Whether with children, alone, or with adult friends, I find it powerfully life-affirming to celebrate Winter Solstice. Even if you turn off the lights and light a candle alone, this simple act can fill a soul with hope, remembering that the darker the night, the farther your light can be seen in the distance.

Each one of us is a light in the world, the presence of the One within many individuals. We are all sacred. The flame of a candle is a reminder of that pure presence within us and the evergreen, like ourselves, stays awake and alive all winter making the world a nicer place to be. My prayer for you is the same as it is for the creatures of the natural world - I hope you have plenty to eat and a warm place to be this winter. I give thanks that you are in the world, just being yourself; letting your light shine through the winter dark.

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