Celebrating Winter Solstice

Celebrating Winter Solstice
from Esther Leisher

The Sun’s return — what joy! The weak sun of mid-winter draws in its breath, drawing in new life at this time of deepest darkness. To celebrate, you can create a festival for the darkest night with a verse and a song. Make a Sun Cake and light a fire or a candle to rejoice in the return of the Light. Then the following morning greet the day with joy. Snow and cold may reign yet a while, but the Light becomes stronger every day.

You can measure your shadow in the days before and after December 20th, to show the sun approaching its lowest point. Or mark a Sun’s Return with a crayon on a southeast-facing windowpane. Put a mark where the rising sun hits the window three days or more before the lowest point and check the rising sun three days after. (Allow for some cloudy days.) The children then see the rising sun approach its lowest point and begin its return. With older children it is fun to know exactly when the sun begins its return, i.e. at 7:20 a.m. December 21st.

Here are two verses I love for this time of year, a lofty thought that you can say as you light a candle, and a verse with movement for young children. Susan Cooper’s “Yule” is also a favorite of ours. Children understand the tone or the quality of something even if they don’t fully understand the words.

The verses I chose I would print out and put up on a wall in the kitchen where I could glance at them frequently and thus memorize them. “Yule” was too long for me; I just read it. For my own children, I included a sense for Winter Solstice in the Christmas activities rather than separating it out. If I had children at home now, 20 years later, I might give Winter Solstice more emphasis, especially for older children. For myself, I always focused clearly on the cycle of the year and winter’s place in it.

Lighting a candle:
Deep in the ground of the human soul,
Of victory assured,
The Spirit-Sun is living.
All through the winter of the inner life
The faithful heart divines it.
Rudolf Steiner


The gift of the light Both hands scoop up light and bring it to your heart
We thankfully take,
But nothing may be
Just alone for our sake.
The more we give light Hands move outward
The one to the other
It shines and spreads life Arms move out horizontally, spreading light
Growing still further,
Till every spark is set aflame. Right hand in front of chest shows the poof of
a flame.
Till every heart,
Joy shall proclaim. Joy gesture — arms up, palms upward
–M. Tittman

Older ChildrenA verse for a celebration with older children or adults.

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!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day.
As promise wakens in the sleeping land;
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year, and every year.
–Susan Cooper

A Song
For a song consider “Down With Darkness, Up With Light.”
Down with darkness, up with light,
Up with sunshine, down with night,
Each of us is one small light.
But together we shine bright.

Go away darkest, blackest night.
Go away, give way to light.

If you can’t find the music, e-mail me and I will send it to you. Eleisher@aol.com

A Sun Cake
You can bake a Sun Cake for Winter Solstice — a 12″ one-layer vanilla cake, the top covered with lemon pudding (easy to make without sugar, see Nourishing Traditions or create your own recipe as I did). Frost around the sides and edges of the top with whipped cream (or make a cream cheese frosting). You then have a yellow disk edged with white and set on a large plate . If you don’t have a large plate, cut a circle of cardboard and cover it with waxed paper or aluminum foil. Around the cake, or on the sides, in a layer of whipped cream, you can arrange cinnamon sticks and whole cloves to represent bare winter trees. Small bits of mint leaf can be added at the base of the cake to indicate faint forces of growth in the winter sun. Use the cinnamon and a bit of cloves the next day in hot apple cider.

Meditative Thoughts
Take a few minutes each day before Winter Solstice to create in yourself a sacred space, then carry that outward. In a family, heart thoughts pass silently from soul to soul.

The celebration each year may have a different emphasis. One year you might think of the Sun giving its Fire to the Earth in summer. Winter comes, and there in the firewood, in the candle, is the Sun, stored up as warmth and light. At mid-winter we most feel the awesome mystery of fire and candle, of ancient Fire, of metamorphosed Light. Firewood comes from trees that nourished themselves on light. Candle wax is from ancient trees that fell into a swamp thousands of years ago and became oil and paraffin. Beeswax comes from flowers, oil for lamps from plant seeds. All are stored sunlight now released in fire at the time when the outer sun is weakest.

For another year you might want to use your few meditative minutes at night to picture this verse from The Year Participated by Owen Barfield.

My eager heart aspires
To be a torch to bear the Spirit’s light
Into the dark night of a wintry world
Blessing and blest.
Bright shoots of soul
Shall be sunk in the gardenbed of the world.
Shining from the sensual dark,
Inner meaning — the Word — resounds through all Reality.

(I modified the original slightly so that the verse could give voice to my own heart.)

Another possibility: The book The Winter Solstice by John and Caitlin Mathews has a mid-winter meditation (page 175) with some delightful images.

Your life is enriched by giving those few minutes to deep thoughts. Nothing you do need lack depth and feeling. Through your inner preparation and through the reverence during the celebration, you show to your family what it is to be truly, fully human, filled with soul and spirit.
–Esther Leisher

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