Sunday, December 21st marks the Winter Solstice, known by some as Yule. The solstice is celebrated around the world in many different fashions; it is the longest day of the year, and therefore marks the returning of the light, as each day after brings with it a few more minutes of sunlight. For those people like me who live in chilly climates, this holiday symbolizes hope in the midst of the cold and dark. This is part of why many cultures bring pine trees and other greenery indoors, as a symbol of life in the season when most things are either dead or dormant.
The Winter Solstice is the official first day of winter, though, so even as we greet the reborn sun, we know that we must somehow make it through the next few months of relative darkness while we wait for spring to return. Many folks struggle with depression due to the lack of sunlight, or feel oppressed by the cold and the long nights.
As a Pagan, I have found ways to lessen my own winter blues by learning to go with the flow of the season. Winter in more primitive societies always meant slower, quieter days, usually huddled around the fire with family or tribe. People went to bed earlier because of the longer, darker nights, and rested up for the burst of energy required for planting in the spring. They told stories, played games, and worked on handcrafts like spinning, sewing, or woodcarving. (They probably did a lot of cuddling, too.)
In our modern society, we tend to ignore the turn of the Wheel of the Year, and try to maintain the same schedule and level of activity no matter what the season—but it usually doesn’t work very well, and we end up stressed and tired and blue. So while most of us can’t just stay home from work and sit by the fire, there are a few ways we can take a hint from our ancestors and embrace the winter darkness in ways that feed our souls and keep us mentally, physically, and spiritually healthier.
If you can, try going to bed earlier, or at least be quieter in the evenings; turn off the TV and read a book, put together a picture puzzle, or write in a journal. If you have children, spend some time together telling stories—take turns reading from a shared book, or each make up part of a continuing saga that you tell each night. Focus on imagination instead of electronics, putting away the phones and gizmos for a few hours and learning a new craft or practicing an old one. If you have an elder in the family who has a creative gift, now is the perfect time for them to share it with others. Cook together as a family, making hearty stews or soups, or kneading bread.
The dark times are meant to be more internal and less external, so you may wish to spend more time alone or with the family unit. But you can also “hunker down” with friends or family and do fun inside activities, like movie night with homemade popcorn, or playing board games or card games. Laughter makes even the darkest night brighter.
If you have someone to cuddle with—whether human or companion animal—there is no better way to spend a cold winter night. Throw in a good book and a mug of hot chocolate (or a glass of wine), and a cookie baked with love, and you’re all set, even if you have to wrap yourself in a fuzzy blanket and cuddle with that.
Don’t forget to take time to appreciate the stark beauty of the quiet season. I miss the green abundance of summer, but the white snow on the black branches and a brilliant red flash from a passing cardinal can always raise my spirits. Singing, playing or listening to music, or enjoying favorite movies and books can also help you get through the long dark hours.
Soon enough the Wheel will turn and the small green shoots will poke their cheerful heads up through the ground, but until that time comes, try embracing the blessings of the darkness in all their quiet potential. Blessed solstice greetings to you all!