Celebrant Lu Garner has been celebrating the winter solstice for many years. Here she shares some ideas for creating your own celebration.
I don’t know about you but my daily family life is a hectic affair – and never more so than in the run up to the festive season. At the best of times it seems that life travels past so fast – children seem all grown up before my very eyes, new directions abound in my personal and work life, world events take my breath away, and literally I can be gasping for air, for the chance to make sense of it all. That is what ceremony or ritual is all about – creating a space to make meaning of the cycles of our lives, whether we are honouring a birth, a death or the turning of the year.
Eight years ago I co-created a group in Derbyshire to mark and celebrate the earth’s annual cycle of eight festivals with other families. Our vision was to make ceremonial celebrations with our children. This group has become one of the touchstones in our family’s life. The regular and cyclical gathering together with friends has allowed us to take precious moments to connect with each other, to take stock of what has passed since the last festival and to consider that which is to come in the days ahead. Meeting the cycle of the earth’s year has provided a vital framework within which to hold our experiences – our joys and sorrows, our successes and challenges, our hopes and fears, our memories and intentions.
These events offered me the opportunity to be still for a while, to embrace something bigger than me and mine, to carry with me a deeper awareness of nature in everything and my part in that. Through that deepening awareness I was able to recognise the form that my own energy needed to take at each point within this ever turning cycle of earth energy. These celebrations have helped to bring me home – to a place where my sense of spirit is held in my day-to-day life. For a busy mother of two this is a godsend – it helps to keep me sane (mostly, although some might question that!), cheerful, inspired and centred (well, for more of the time than otherwise). All most useful qualities for a mother, I’m sure you will agree.
The Winter Solstice
December 20th-23rd depending on where exactly it falls each year, otherwise known as Yule - meaning ‘wheel’ in Norwegian. Please bear in mind that rituals around Winter Solstice reflect the wheel of the year – an ever-moving cycle of energy of which we are all a part, rather than a static moment in time. Actually though that is exactly what Solstice is – a still point in the cycle, ‘Solstice’ meaning ‘the standing of the sun’. From the Summer Solstice to the Winter Solstice the sun’s energy is waning, gradually becoming less and less powerful as we move from the heady long days of summer to the dark time of winter. And the opposite happens as we travel from Winter through to Summer Solstice. So Winter Solstice is the moment when the shift from waning to waxing occurs – at the darkest time of the year with the longest night and shortest day casting long shadows over us, we can honour the growing power of the sun and celebrate the returning of the light, an eternal promise, never yet broken.
It is a time for stillness – to look back on what has been and draw in the messages from your own experiences, a chance to release and cleanse any difficulties or stuck issues.
A time to look ahead, to nurture the seeds of your intentions, to address how you will be expressing your own uniqueness to the world. Winter Solstice is the festival of rebirth – ideally we should be conserving our energy, waiting for fresh energy to emerge as it arouses itself from underground, casting off the restraints of winter, remembering that for something to be born, something must die away. It is a time to celebrate belonging to family, friends and kin; to share ourselves and our resources so that we might survive the hardships of winter better; to be generous – which is where all this giving of gifts comes in – to give thanks for our bounty and to focus on love and healing.
Ideas and suggestions to celebrate the Winter Solstice
Simple ways to mark the Winter Solstice as a family are to take one of the many Celtic Yule traditions, make a time to focus together and create a slice of sacred space to honour this time of the year and what it means to you. Making space sacred means making a time to focus, having a clear intention about what you wish to do, naming that and asking spirit to be present with you. I recommend opening a sacred space by inviting any or all of the following: nature spirits, guardians of the directions, deities (whichever are closest to your hearts), angels, guides and/or any other unseen forces and forms you wish to welcome into your space. Ask for their protection and support. Remember at the end to thank them for their presence. There are no right or wrong ways to make a ritual – reclaiming the word ritual means using your imagination to create something that is meaningful to you. Go ahead, have a go. The only rule is: enjoy yourself!
You could burn a Yule log – traditionally oak as it burns slowly – bless it as you commit it to the fire and keep the ashes for the next festival or next year’s Winter Solstice (powerful magic…). You can write down something you want to release or hopes for the coming New Year and throw the paper into the fire. Naming intentions at Solstice is where our New Year resolution tradition comes from.
You can decorate a tree – we make our own from a mix of evergreen trimmings rather than buying something and feeling guilt throughout the festive season as it dies in front of our eyes. Making the trip out together to ask the plants for permission to use them is an annual excitement we look forward to. Hang bells to tinkle as you pass. Such fun to be had with homemade decorations – dried pomegranates, gilded nuts, tissue paper angels, brightly coloured cardboard suns, salt dough figures.
Lu Garner works as a celebrant nationwide, running ceremonies crafted individually for each client. Baby namings, Blessingways in pregnancy, weddings, funerals or any occasion.
Published in issue 1. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.