Celebrate Winter Solstice And align with the season

It’s dark.
The days are short. The nights are long.
Let us be here. In the darkness.  

Welcome the Darkness

The holiday lights and festivities can be good medicine, but they can be unhelpful if we use them as distractions. Let’s not pretend it is light. It is dark. The Buddha teaches that suffering comes from craving what we want and avoiding what we don’t want. Are we putting up twinkle lights to avoid the darkness?

So, let us sit here for a moment, and embrace what is - beautiful, rich, mysterious darkness. Stars and moonlight. Deer, fox, and owl. Our bodies, like bear and groundhog, seek rest. Our souls enjoy dreamtime, in the darkness.

Bring Yourself into Right Relationship

I find deep joy in this practice of tuning into the season. When we take time to appreciate the benefits and challenges of this unique moment in time, we embrace our place in the cosmos. We know we are in relationship to the Sun and the Earth. We belong here. This is our rhythm; together we are spinning through space, twirling and tilting as we dance with the moon. Let us weave our personal stories into this cosmic tale. Know that you belong here, in the darkness.

Be the Light

Notes on Winter Solstice from My Personal Grimoire.

Notes on Winter Solstice from My Personal Grimoire.

AND, we have power. We have memory and consciousness. WE are light. THAT is why we light fires in the darkness. Not because we are avoiding the darkness, but to give voice to our hope, our faith, our courage. We glow with gratitude. We shine a light in the shadows and illuminate our fears so that we may grow wiser and more joyful. We strike matches, plug in twinkly lights, and burn logs because this, too, is part of darkness. When we celebrate the Winter Solstice, we honor darkness and celebrate light. We tune into seasonal markers of change. We invite our body, mind, and soul to align with here, and now.

When is Yuletide?

Technically the Solstice is the shortest day of the year. But, the holiday of Yule is so much more than one day. Only you know the right time to begin your observance. This year, our family moved from California to New York. The darkness feels different this year. The cold has us turning inward, sooner. And, so, we find ourselves meditating on fires, huddled around the woodstove. We decorate our home with fir and pine, appreciating their greenery in this leafless landscape.

Photo by  Erin Mahollitz

Altar Magic

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

My favorite way to align with the season, make an altar. Ok, I’ll be honest; I have multiple altars. What is an altar? It’s basically any spot adorned with symbols that connect you with divinity. Some of mine are filled with items found on nature walks, and some are covered with decorations collected over generations. Here are some ideas for transforming any surface into a sacred space,:

  • Colors: Red, Green, White

  • Candles

  • Cider and/or wine

  • Branches and moss from local hikes

  • Evergreens, holly, mistletoe

  • Dried Fruit and nuts

  • Bits of Paper and Ribbons from package wrapping sessions

  • Citrus Fruit

  • Image of the Wheel of the Year / Spiral

  • Antlers

  • Bells

Christmas and Sharing Light

Coming from Catholic families, Christmas still takes on a leading role during this time of year. Heck, even I believe in Santa Claus. I mean, sort of. He embodies the Spirit of Christmas, and we all have a little Santa inside us, right?. So, I guess, I believe in us. THIS is the story I tell my kiddos. I emphasize the importance of spreading joy and light. I also emphasize that Santa needs A LOT of helpers. I invite them to help out. “How would you like to spread light?” My boys love making (and wrapping) gifts. My favorite moment so far... hollering “Merry Christmas” to our mail carrier as she plucked a bag of cookies from our mailbox. Gift giving is just one way to bring joy into the world. Our family enjoys creating experiences together, like breakfast dates with the nephews or Handel’s Messiah with my mom.

Meditations on the Sun

This year I am excited to simply sit and think about the sun. Here is a list of my favorite activities.   

Spiral Walk Ceremony

This year we are taking it to the next level and celebrating with a ritual filled with fire, verses, candles, story, and cocoa. At the heart of the event is a Spiral Walk, inspired by the Waldorf Advent Spiral. I love walking labyrinths and the symbolic movement of leaving the outerworld and turning toward the center. Our Yule ceremony incorporates a similar walking meditation, as we look to our inner light on the darkest night.  


  • Evergreens (or something else to mark the spiral)

  • 1 larger pillar/votive candle

  • 20 tea candles

  • Taper candles for each participant

  • Matches/lighter

  • Small pieces of paper

  • Pens


  • Paper, sticks, and logs for a bonfire

To begin:

  1. Optional: Prepare a bonfire with paper, sticks, and logs. Light it if you need it for warmth.

  2. Create a spiral on the ground. Traditionally it is made with evergreens (ours is made from extra branches from at the Christmas tree farm), but it can be made with chalk, ribbon, garland, rope….

  3. Place one larger votive/pillar candle (unlit) in the middle of the spiral as a symbol of the enduring light of the sun and the light within ourselves.

  4. Place 12 smaller candles (unlit) along the path of the spiral, symbolic of the 12 months/moons of the year.

  5. Place 8 candles around the outside of the spiral, one for each cardinal direction and each equal division. It demarks the sacred circle.

At Dusk

  1. As the sun’s light begins to fade, distribute long/taper candles to each participant.

  2. Recite the Brief Homily on Darkness (By John Halstead) - adapted by Erin Mahollitz
    The winter solstice happens in nature, but it also happens inside of us. It can happen inside of us in summer or winter, spring or fall. In the dark place of our soul, we carry secret wishes, pains, frustrations, loneliness, fears, regrets, worries. Darkness is not something to be afraid of. In the the dark place of our soul we can find rest and rejuvenation. We can find balance. And when we have rested, been comforted, and restored, we can return from the dark place in our soul to the world of light and new possibilities.”

  3. Call in the elements and directions asking for their love, protection, light, and energy.
    *Light the candles around the spiral while waking clockwise

  4. The designated “keeper of the light” lights the candle at the center, while others recite
    Prelude: “Solstice Prayer” chant by Thorn Coyle
    “We wait in the dark for the light to appear,
    Mother, give birth to our brother the Sun.
    We wait in the dark for the light to appear,
    Mother, give birth to our brother the Sun!
    We wait. We watch.
    Out of the cold comes the promise of newness.
    We wait. We watch.
    Out of the cold comes the promise of day!”

Photo by  Erin Mahollitz

Walking the Spiral

*Note: I will go first to model how this is all done. I will do it once while narrating my actions. I will do it a second time, in silence. Then, the kids will have a go. Eric will go last.

  1. One at a time, each person silently walks to the center with their unlit taper candle.
    This is a meditation on personal darkness (that which no longer serves you).

  2. When you get to the center, silently light your taper candle from the central candle.
    This is a symbol of the eternal light of the sun as well as the eternal the light within you.
    This is also a good time to ask, “What light do I wish to cultivate in the new year?”

  3. As you walk out of the spiral, use your lit candle to light a few candles along the spiral. This is a symbol of carrying your light out into the world and into the coming year.

  4. After exiting the spiral, write down an intention/light you want to nurture in the coming year, this may be an attitude, a goal, a behavior, a relationship you will tend.
    These can be saved in a “manifesting box,” turned into a mobile or prayer flags, incorporated into a family vision board, or thrown into the fire so the winds can carry your wishes into the ether.

  5. When everyone is done, recite “The Light is Reborn” by John Halstead
    Take turns reading a line of the “call”.  
    Everyone responds with the line, “The light is reborn.”

    When the earth is barren.
    The light is reborn.
    When the animals sleep.
    The light is reborn.
    When the leaves have all fallen.
    The light is reborn.
    When the rivers are frozen.
    The light is reborn.
    When the ground is hard.
    The light is reborn.
    When the shadows grow long.
    The light is reborn.

  6. Sing “Pagan Silent Night” (UU Hymn 251) adapted by Ellen Reed
    Si – lent night, Sol – stice Night
    All is calm, gone is light
    Na- ture slum – bers in for – est and glen
    Till in Spring – time She wakens a – gain
    Sleep – ing spir – its grow strong!
    Sleep – ing spir – its grow strong!

    Si – lent night, Sol – stice Night
    Sil – ver moon shin – ing bright
    Snow – fall blank – ets the slum – ber – ing Earth
    Yule fires wel – come the Sun’s re – birth
    Hark, the Light is re – born!
    Hark, the Light is re – born!

    Si – lent night, Sol – stice Night
    Qui – et rest till the Light
    Turn – ing ev – er the roll – ing Wheel
    Brings the win – ter to com – fort and heal
    Rest your spir – it in peace!
    Rest your spir – it in peace!

  7. Close the sacred circle by thanking the directions and blowing out the four directional candles. (You can leave the other four outer candles to burn. They’ll look pretty.)

  8. Blow out your personal candle.
    (Find a place for it in your home, and relight it when meditating on your intention.)

  9. Go inside for cocoa and cookies.
    While eating and drinking, you can take turns reading…

Photo by  Erin Mahollitz

“The Rebirth of the Sun” by Starhawk

“Circle round, and I’ll tell you a story about when the sun was born again …
It was the middle of winter, and the sun had grown very old. All year long the sun had worked very hard, rising and setting day after day. All year long the sun had fed everybody on earth, shining and shining, giving energy to the trees and the flowers and the grasses so they could grow and feed the animals and birds and insects and people. All year the sun’s gravity held tight to the spinning ball of the earth and the twirling ball of the moon and the eight other whirling planets as they traveled around and around and around, until the poor sun was dizzy watching it all. Now the poor tired sun could barely make it up in the morning, and after a very short time, needed to sleep again. So the days grew shorter, and the nights grew longer, until the day was so short it was hardly worth getting up for. Mother Night felt sorry for the sun.

“Come to my arms and rest, child.  After all, I am your mother. You were born out of my darkness, billions of years ago, and you will return to me when all things end. Let me cradle you now, as I shelter every galaxy and star in the universe.”

So Mother Night wrapped her great arms around the sun, and the night was very long indeed.
“Why does the dark go on so long?” asked children all over the earth. “Won’t the sun ever come back again?” “The sun is very tired,” the old ones said. “But maybe, if you children say thank you for all the things the sun does for us, the light may return in the morning.” The children sang songs to the sun. They thought about all the things the sun gave them.

“Thank you for growing the lettuces and the corn and the rice and the wheat,” they said. “Thank you for growing the trees of the forests and the seaweed in the oceans and the krill that feeds the whales. Thank you for stirring the air and making winds that bring the rain.”
Every time a child said thank you, the sun began to feel a little warmer, a little brighter. Wrapped safely in the arms of Night, the sun grew younger and younger. At last the children had to go to bed. “We will stay up and wait for the sun to rise again” the old ones said. “Can’t we stay up, too?” the children asked. “You can try, but you will get too sleepy,” the old ones said. “But you can each light a candle, because all fire is a spark of the sun’s fire. Put your candle in a very safe place, and let it keep vigil for you as you sleep and dream of sunrise.” So the children lit their candles and put them in very safe places, and each flame was a little spark of the sun’s fire.

And the sun peeped out from between the arms of Night, and saw all the little fires, and began to feel warmer and brighter and younger still. Early in the morning, the old ones woke the children. Together they climbed a high hill and faced to the east, the direction of sunrise. They sang songs to the sun and ran around trying to keep warm. They waited and waited to see what dawn would bring. The sky began to turn from black to indigo to blue. Slowly the sky grew light. A golden glow crept over the horizon. Night opened her great arms, and in a burst of brightness, the sun appeared, new and strong and shining.
For in the long night the sun had rested well and grown young from the songs and the thanks of the children, young as a brand-new baby, born out of Night once more. Everybody cheered, and the children jumped up and down. “The sun has returned! The sun is reborn!” the people cried. And they danced and sang to celebrate the birth of a new day, and then went home to breakfast.”

The End

And so concludes our ceremony. Remember, when you have little kids: the ceremony will likely change and flex in the moment (she reminds herself). Be gentle with yourself and your family.
UPDATE: It totally rained and we couldn’t light the candles on the spiral. We ended up coming inside and reading the stories while lighting a fire in the living room fireplace. We wrapped it up with cocoa and dinner :-)

Now, you do you!

  1. Sit with darkness. What fears, wishes, dreams come up for you?

  2. Weave your personal story into the cosmic tale of the Sun. You belong here, now.

  3. How do you make light in the darkness?

  4. Feel into the season and sense how you want to observe this holy time.

  5. Create an altar. You can start with one candle.

  6. Incorporate the spirit of Solstice into your other winter celebrations.

  7. Meditate on the Sun.

  8. Perform a ritual. Do what feels right to you. Maybe it’s as simple as singing a song or reciting a verse while lighting a candle.

I’m excited to hear how you celebrate the Winter Solstice. Please share your magic in the comments.

Where to begin?

I always begin with a little research. I made a Winter Solstice Worksheet for collecting notes, correspondences, activities, and more.  

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