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The Winter Solstice is one of the most beautiful and sacred to my family. There is something so needed in that quiet day, before the joy and explosion of Christmas arrives, and as we are wrapping up all of the holiday crafting, creating and cooking.
My husband and I both had our own Solstice traditions long before we had children. We attended a silent meditation that lasted from sun down until sun rise. There was nothing but the sound of the breath to envelop us during the journey into the longest day, and a true acknowledgment that this is the season of inward reflection. As morning approached, we would gather outside to rejoice, dance and sing at the return of the light.
As our children have entered our lives, some of those same traditions have stayed with us, and while we have created new ones as a family, those memories have helped to shape the meaning of this day.
As the day of the Solstice arrives, our time is again spent in silence with one another. Yoga Sun Salutations, breath work and meditation greet us as the day breaks. I love family yoga, something about moving together through our breath, and purposely bringing the flow of grace into our home brings me comfort. While yoga is such a beautiful practice as individuals, creating energy as a group can be one of the most powerful experiences.
The solstice brings a day of no light to our home. No electricity is used (except in the heating of our meal on our gas stove), no lights switched on or television in the background. The quiet and the dark are always pronounced, and it feels wonderful to sit in that space. Candles are lit, fires are made, and everything seems to move at a slower pace. Winter lanterns have been made in anticipation of this day, and line the walk way leading up to our front door. They will be lit as the sun sets, in anticipation of the return of the light.
Somehow, in the course of our family creating traditions on this day, we spend many an hour making winter treats for the animals that inhabit our neighborhood. Oranges filled with peanut butter and bird seed, pine cones dripped in the same concoction. Each hang from the trees tied with twine, awaiting a creature of the woods to come and devour them. The preparation and placement of these treats has always been so important to my children, especially my oldest. I think that in the bare of winter, children can see just how large their world truly is, and a sense of connection feels needed. Often times, on our afternoon walk, my kids will fill their pockets with bird seed, and leave a trail for the animals to follow.
As the day progresses, a cold hike is always in order. Stories are told, songs are sung, and warm hot chocolate is carried. This time out of doors is one that I personally cherish. It has always been cold and bare, and yet somehow full of life. A reminder that even in the quiet and stillness of winter days, there is much that goes on beneath our feet and over our heads. The birds in the trees, the lonley berries on the branch, the sound of water beneath the frozen stream. All are reminders of the coming days of life returned. Of rebirth and renewal that will soon lie ahead. For now though, the time of inner reflection is needed.
In the spirit of that reflection, we come together to paint, draw, and write, and to simply just be together in a creative space. As the last light of day makes it’s stand, we gather our art supplies, journals and creative thoughts for the coming year ahead. In many ways, the Solstice acts as a New Year’s celebration for our family, and our time is spent in thought on what the coming year will look like. Wishes are made, and a drawing, painting, poem or story is framed and a hung as a symbol of our family’s resolution for the coming year.
As the light departs, a simple meal is made, almost always of soup and bread, and the children are read stories by the fire or candle light. Jammies are put on, teeth brushed, tea drank and prayers said. The Light will arrive early the next morning, and the children are always excited to fall into sleep.
With the quiet of the house now even more pronounced, my husband and I slip into discussion. Sometimes profound, sometimes silly, sometimes reflective. We have a long night ahead of us to keep vigil. Yoga is done, tea and wine drank, and hope for the future always makes it’s way in. This is our time, both as individuals and as a married couple, to share what we need form this year. We tend to fall in and out of sleep, but the fire always stays lit and the candles never burn through.
Just before dawn, the boys are awoken, and find a bag of treats waiting at their feet. Their sunshine bag is filled with nuts, oranges, and golden treasures. Crowns that were made in years passed are placed upon their heads, and warm coats, socks and boots are put on. As the sun rises, we make our way out of doors to mark it’s coming, once again renewed in the promise that darkness never lasts forever.
Sleep then once again descends. After a warm breakfast and a hot drink, we slip back under the covers and let ourselves go.
Why do we celebrate in this way? Why create such elaborate traditions and ritual? I suppose that for us, in the midst of the chaos of the holidays, the Solstice brings a moment of complete silence. We can be assured that through these traditions, if nothing else, we have given our children a moment of pause to remember that no matter how dark a day may be, the light will always return for them. That they are never alone, never out of reach of help and love, and that they can face the times of darkness with grace and faith. We do make a big deal of this day, and it’s symbology represents larger themes that we want to play out in our lives. It is a day that takes us backwards into traditions of the past, and moves us forward into another year of blessings and joy. It is a day of darkness, a day of silence, and a day of peace.