Why We Celebrate Solstice
The end of the year in the U.S., from about Halloween on, is collectively referred to as the holiday season. It is a cozy time in areas that aren’t tropical, and by that I mean the days are shorter, and of course, the temperatures are dropping, the end of the harvest season approaching. The feeling this time of year has always given me, at a visceral level, perhaps a biological level, is that it is time to gather food, settle in for the winter, sit by a fire, cuddle, stay warm. Sure, we have central heating systems in our homes, but humans haven’t always lived that way, and I like letting my ancient genetics and innate behavioral leanings guide me by saying, we have to survive the winter, we have to stay close for warmth. Actually, if you asked my partner, he would probably say that’s what I am actually believing anyway, since being cold is very hard on me.
As a woman with a lot of romantic ideas about the world, I really enjoy the feeling that the harvest season and the winter give me. It’s beautiful to watch the leaves change, the cycles change, the earth shift, and this part of the world go to sleep, the new life waiting underneath the cold ground, to reemerge in the spring. I like to allow myself to change with it. Hunker down, draw in, care for myself and family. Wait for the sun to return.
I was raised in a family that did not make its own sacred or important rituals. We celebrated the mainstream holidays, in the ways media and mainstream, popular culture we were supposed to. And that is even if we celebrated anything, as my biological family was, and is that of, addicts with mental illness and extreme dysfunction. Celebrating anything that we don’t truly assign meaning to ourselves, personally, has not felt right to me since I was young, perhaps a teenager. It felt cheapened, watered down. Prescribed. Perhaps it is partly my rebellious nature, but I want to blaze my own path in every aspect of my life, as it seems fit. Holidays and rituals included.
As I became a mother, and assessed how I wanted to raise my first son, celebrating Christmas seemed ridiculous to me. I started following a more Buddhist style path when I was 16, and although Christmas doesn’t necessarily have to reflect Christian values, and was originally a pagan celebration of winter solstice, it seems to me to be hijacked by conservative Christianity in order to attempt to celebrate the birth of the savior. The ideas of that, and how it should be done, vary between fundamentalists and more liberal, forward thinking Christians, but none the less, the focus is definitely on gift giving and buying, buying, and shopping during this holiday season. I mean, look at the insanity that is black Friday, where people literally get trampled and die in retail stores, so people can get “good deals” on plastic stuff to gift people on the Christ’s birthday…just typing those words all together made me laugh out loud, no matter how many times I think about it. What a crazy hypocrisy. What an odd ritual of materialism and consumption. And when you talk to people about this “holiday season” , it’s all “I can’t wait until the holiday season is over,” or “I can’t wait to get this shopping done.” Not often, “I really enjoy this time of year.” People allow themselves to go in debt to buy the biggest and newest things on the market. Not that this is always the case, but much too often my experience with the culture of this particular way of celebrating.
Most of the common symbols of this winter holiday are Pagan in nature. The evergreens, the holly, the mistletoe, the stars, to signify the light of the sun returning on the winter solstice. Signifying that the darkest night of the year has passed, and celebrating the slow return of the sun. The return of green life coming back to the earth. Even the red and white colors of Santa Claus are thought to have possibly came from images from an arctic tribe’s psychedelic trips, which can be read about:
Pretty fantastic ideas, huh?? But I get it. It resonates with me. Celebrating the seasons and the cycles of the earth are humanity’s oldest ways to show reverence to life, to the earth. We, as a species, have done it as long as we have been able to assign meaning to things. We search for something higher, and we show it respect. If you ask me, the simpler, the better. Earth based worship is ancient, and I feel it deep in my bones. It has never made me want to get in line on black Friday in front of a retail store. And, of course, Reverend Billy and the stop shopping choir feel pretty much the same way:
So, in my little family, we celebrate simply with friends, food, wine, poetry, music, and art on the night of the winter solstice. We sometimes write down our intentions for the closing of one year and the beginning of the new one that we are facing. Sometimes, we have fire ceremonies, to cleanse and ignite our intentions. We assign our own personal meaning to the night, and make the entrance of winter special. Special to us. Our own tradition.
I challenge you, my reader, to create your own traditions, with your own beautiful and personal meaning. We need ritual still, as we always have, as a way to connect us with higher meaning. Do things because you want to, not because it’s prescribed. Do what you feel deeply in your bones.