Celebrate the Winter Solstice

winter traditions for the the shortest day of the year and the longest night of the year

By Berkshire Family Hikes December 11, 2023

During the busy holiday months it's so easy to get caught up in the rush and bustle, swept into the commercial cyclone and miss out on moments to reflect, connect, and renew.

Celebrating the Winter solstice can be the perfect time to remind ourselves that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Connected, yet always changing, constantly renewing.

 So what exactly is the solstice?

 The word “Solstice” comes from the Latin words: sol meaning "sun" and sistere meaning “to stand still” as it appeared the sun and moon had stopped moving across the sky. The Winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and the longest night of the year.

Through the pages of history, ancient Egyptians, Celts, Hopi, and many others, used the solstice as a time for ritual, reflection, and renewal. For example, in Iran, families often kept fires burning all night to assist in the battle between light and dark forces.

Creating your own meaningful traditions and celebrations of Winter solstice helps us to cultivate deeper connections - connections to nature, to family and friends, to all the things that matter most to us. It can become a time to feed our spirits and nurture our souls, a much needed break from the frantic preparations we take on during this time of year. 

Simple rituals help bring personal meaning and create touchstones. These in turn remind us to open up, to receive and to practice gratitude. Much needed reminders to carry with us into the holiday season.

1. Watch The Sun Rise or Set

Brave the outdoors or watch together from a warm window as the sun rises or sets. Share a moment of quiet. Give thanks for both the darkness and the light.

2. Go on an Evergreen Walk

 Evergreens symbolize the continuity of life, protection, and prosperity. Take a walk and see how many conifers you can identify. Collect some sprigs to take home as a reminder of things yet to come.

Click the link for a FREE printable to take with you on your walk!

3. Build a Circle of Candlelight

Each participant takes a candle and sits together in the darkness for a moment, offering gratitude. Let each person share their hopes for themselves, the world, or family and friends, and light their candle. Sit in quiet for a moment before blowing out together. You may also choose to light a larger candle in the middle to symbolize your unity in the coming year.

4. Walk Under The Moon

 Winter nights can be so exciting to take a walk. The moon has a calming energy but a nighttime adventure is thrilling at any age. Let your senses adjust to the darkness and moonlight. Smell and feel the cold air, listen for noisy quiet, test your night vision. The world gets dark early in winter, especially on the solstice, so even young children can participate, make memories, and not miss bedtime by too much.

What better night to venture out than the longest night of the year?

5. Decorate an Outdoor Edible Yule Tree

 Share a ritual founded on love, respect, and caring for nature. Making a modern-day yule tree is simple, just decorate a living tree outside with food for the animals. Bestow some blessings on the critters sharing this chilly winter with us. Check out these great ideas for edible ornaments at Wilder Child.

6. Make a List of Things to Let Go

 Ask yourself: What am I ready to let go of and leave in the dark? Then grab a piece of paper and write down anything that comes to mind. Every hurt, injustice, judgment against yourself or another, no matter how big or small. Keep writing until you feel lighter.

 Take a moment to honor these messages that the darkness shares with you, and allow this awareness to shed light upon the darkest parts of yourself. If you feel comfortable, throw the paper into a (safely lit) fire, and let the flames transform your darkness into light.

7. Set Some Solstice Intentions

You don't have to wait til January 1st! Instead of a resolution, focus on your intentions. An intention is a thing, idea, habit, etc., that you would like to bring into your life.Whether you want to spend more time listening, watching, or being present, choosing intentions is a wonderful way to honor the slower, quieter rhythm of the season, just in time too!

 One of my personal rituals is to read some poetry or a passage from a favorite author.

 This one, from Hal Borland, brings the magic of the solstice to light. 

"As far back as the race memories and ancient legends of mankind run, the Winter solstice has been a time of questioning and wonder, followed by rediscovery of basic certainties. To see the daylight steadily shorten and the nights lengthen and deepen with cold, was to feel the approach of doom. To see the sun stand still and then swing north once more was and still is, to know that the cold gray of Winter must pass, that hope and belief are neither futile nor foolish. Hope is easy and belief is simple in a warm, green, world. Winter is the time when man most needs the securities of unshaken certainty, whether it is the Winter of the soul or the harsh Winter of the year. And as surely as the Winter solstice brings some understanding of his universe, the spiritual solstice brings to man some understanding of himself. He seeks securities, and the more he seeks the more he must know that there are no new securities anywhere, but only the old ones rediscovered. 

So comes the time of rediscovery. For though I may define security in a dozen different ways, the ultimate definition leads to the inner man, to myself. There must lie that certainty which gives life its meaning ; and there also lies doubt, the depth of cold and darkness. I must know Winter if I am to know Spring and Summer. And here is Winter, with its own wondering and its quiet and its own discoveries, its solstice and its turn."

Happy Winter Solstice!

Reprinted with permission from