How to Have a Solstice Celebration

December 21st is Winter Solstice — the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year. Celebrated by cultures across the globe for more than 6,000 years, it signifies the return of light and with it, life. 

At age 23, having just returned home from a three-month stint living abroad in Russia, New York-based Monique Peterson found herself overwhelmed with the neon marketing and disgusted by the “buy, buy, buy” mentality of the holidays. Peterson decided to celebrate Winter Solstice by taking a hike with loved ones and reflecting in gratitude for everything she already had, instead of focusing on the need for more. Sixteen years later, she continues her December tradition.

For those wanting to think outside the big box store, Winter Solstice celebrations are a meaningful way to gather with friends and honor the true spirit of the season. Here’s our guide to get you started:

What do you do at a Winter Solstice party?

What’s the difference between any standard holiday party and a meaningful Winter Solstice gathering? “Setting an intention,” says Donna Henes, author of Celestially Auspicious Occasions: Seasons, Cycles, and Celebrations. “It’s about going to the source of our holiday celebrations — what does this day really mean to us?”

On the eve of your celebration, start the night off by watching the first winter sunset. “We have forgotten some of the simplicity of living, and seasonal rituals bring us to a simpler time in life,” says Joyce Arnowitz, an intuitive consultant and counselor in San Rafael, Calif., who has organized solstice events for over 17 years.

For six days during the Summer Solstice and again during the Winter Solstice, the sun rises and sets in visibly the same location, whereas the rest of the year it moves across the sky from day to day. Watch the sun set on the shortest day of the year, and welcome the return of longer and longer days until summer.

Lighten up

Use candles to illuminate your home, recalling a time when sun and fire were the only sources of light. Decorate with found items from nature, such as evergreen and felled pinecones. A small rosemary plant, used in early solstice celebrations as an “herb of the sun,” could make a nice parting gift.

Solstice celebrations don’t need to be complicated, overly serious affairs; a solstice ritual can be as relaxed and simple as sharing a potluck meal and having your guests share a funny story from the previous year. For a more dramatic touch, ask guests to make a wish for the upcoming year while lighting a single candle. With each wish, the room grows brighter — a symbol of the light returning.

Or skip the shindig yet still create a special day. Richard Heinberg, author of Celebrate the Solstice, recommends going on an energy fast by lighting candles and spending the day without television, cell phones, computers or other non-essential appliances. Write letters to loved ones. Set intentions for the upcoming year.

2 pints and 1/4 cup brown ale or winter ale
3 or 4 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves
Zest from half a lemon
4 apples
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup port
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground all spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Books of ideas for Solstice celebrations

Celebrate the Solstice: Honoring the Earth’s Seasonal Rhythms through Festival and Ceremony
by Richard Heinberg (The Theosophical Publishing House)

Celestially Auspicious Occasions: Seasons, Cycles, and Celebrations by Donna Henes (Perigee Putnam/Penguin)

Solstice Evergreen: The History, Folklore and Origins of the Christmas Tree by Sheryl Ann Karas (Aslan Publishing)

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