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Winter Solstice & What it Means to Us

On Tuesday, December 21st, we’ll reach the shortest day of the year and the astronomical first day of winter. The sun seems to be in hiding and your Sol is stored safely, but the winter solstice isn’t just a day to dread. Instead, it reminds us to get in tune with the plants and animals who use winter to catch up on some R&R. Health and well-being are crucial during the winter months, and here’s how you can use the winter solstice to support both.

The Sun’s Rebirth

Throughout history, the winter solstice has been associated with celebrating the “sun’s rebirth.” In fact, many ancient traditions are similar to modern-day celebrations; like Saturnalia, the ancient Roman festival. Festivities included games, feasts, and gift-giving. Even wreaths and other greenery were used as decoration, much like Christmas.

Solstice, derived from the Latin words for ‘sun’ and ‘to stand still,’ got its name because due to the angle of its rays and the plane of the Earth’s equator, the sun appears to be in a standstill on this day. From December 21 onward, the sun appears to move up from its lowest point in the sky, marking what was considered a “rebirth” of the sun as days lengthen.

We, too, can think of the winter solstice as a time for rebirth. It may not feel like it’s a period for transformation and growth, but if we embrace the darkness, we can expect more light to flood in during the coming months.

Celebrating Our Connection to Nature

While it may seem counterintuitive to connect with nature when it’s so dormant, this dormancy is worth celebrating in and of itself. The fact that plants and animals know to welcome torpor—physical or mental inactivity—when humans are still busying themselves with 40-hour work weeks and the demands of the holidays is worth reflecting on.

Trees shed their energy-consuming leaves and slow their growth and metabolism down. Squirrels enjoy the bounty of their summer nut and seed hauls, finding home in sheltered nests in trees. Other animals like bears, bats, insects, and frogs know that the winter resources are scarce, so they adapt their sleep schedules and body temperature to conserve energy.

We’re not just connected to nature, we are nature. It would be difficult to hibernate like many animals, but we can adapt to seasonal changes so that by February, we aren’t grumpy and unmotivated. More enjoyment of solitude and hot, hearty foods are just a few ways we can embrace a natural response to winter. Feel the need to spend more time in bed? That’s natural, too. In fact, winter sleep is nothing like it used to be. Humans used to spend much longer in bed, often waking in the middle of a cold winter night to read, pray, or spend time with loved ones before falling back into a  “second” sleep.

As much as you’re able to, listen to your body and allow it to influence how you make it through the winter months. That way, like plants and animals, you’ll be able to emerge in spring feeling healthy and rejuvenated.

Rituals of Self-Care

The dark months of winter serve as an excellent reminder to slow down and spend more time connecting with ourselves. Here are a few self-care rituals that prioritize well-being when it’s likely needed most:

  • Start or build upon your mindfulness practices.Listen to a guided winter solstice meditation, do a body scan, or simply connect with your breath.
  • Light a Yule candle. The festive pagan tradition involves allowing a large ‘sun’ candle to burn from dusk until dawn during the winter solstice. While watching the flame, consider the warmth of the candle and how it symbolizes the sun’s presence—even when everything appears dark.
  • Enjoy a traditional winter feast. Eat seasonal vegetables like Brussels sprouts and winter squash, and fruit like persimmons and pomegranates. Honor old traditions with meals like meat pies or soups. And of course, enjoy some mulled wine or Yule tea.

Watch the winter solstice sunrise. Finally sit down to read that book you keep “wanting to start.” Write a loved one a letter. Start a puzzle. Take some time to familiarize yourself with winter riding. Enjoy more baths. Bake cookies. Paint a picture of the sun. Pick up an old instrument. Whatever you do, take solace in the solstice. Embrace its lessons to keep the fire burning within you until spring.