First, a little bit of background:
The Winter Solstice falls on December 21st this year in the Northern Hemisphere, which commences the beginning of Winter, the shortest day of the year, and the last harvest. You may recognize these traditions from varying cultural celebrations like Yule for Wiccans or other Pagans, Christmas for Christians, and so on. Most people nowadays immediately associate Christianity with December traditions like decorating a fir tree, hanging wreaths, or devouring a delicious feast, but in actuality, these traditions have been celebrated by people of all cultures and religions for centuries predating the uprise of the Christianized world. Ironically, the Bible condemns participating in these common traditions, since they are related to ancient Pagan festivities. It is quite amazing to think that Winter Solstice celebrations can be traced back as early as the Stone Age! Being the shortest day, longest night, and often the last crop of the year, Winter Solstice activities are generally centered around the death and rebirth of the Sun. This is why most of the traditional celebrations are associated with honoring nature and enjoying a final feast before the cold and dark weeks following. Keeping in mind, of course, that these traditions originated before modern technology that allows us to enjoy fruitful harvests year-round and the invention of processed foods. Okay, enough on history, let's get into some ways modern people and families can celebrate the Solstice!
1. Forage and create your own compostable tree ornaments, garland, & wreath
I think it's safe to say everyone is familiar with the tradition of bringing a fir tree into your home in December and decorating it with lights and ornaments. This ancient tradition isn't only for Christians, though! Bringing an evergreen tree into the home began as a way to keep some green life in the homes of families who were preparing for the cold, dark, and barren Winter months ahead and remind them that Spring will soon come again. Some cultures even believed that keeping greenery in and around the home would prevent evil spirits of the Winter from entering. Traditionally, families would light up their trees with candles, but we strongly advise skipping this fire hazard and opting for the modern invention of non-flammable string lights.
So, bringing an evergreen tree into your home would be the first step. Now, it's time to do some decorating! Modern tree ornaments made of plastic or metal aren't the best for Mother Earth, so foraging for your own compostable alternatives is a great option. Decorating your tree with fruits, nuts, and berries is also symbolic of the final and first harvests that the Winter Solstice honors.
Now it's time to go outside and forage! You can look for any kind of fruit you can get your hands on (citrus, apples, pomegranate, berries), nuts, seeds, and even mossy branches or pine! For the fruit, you'll want to dehydrate them before decorating your tree to prevent mold or attracting insects. You can do this the old-fashioned way by placing them on a radiator or heater, but you may want to skip this and head for the oven for the sake of time. If you can forage your own pine branches, you can string them together with twine to create a wreath and decorate them with the same fruits, nuts, or berries!
To dehydrate your fruit in the oven, simply slice them as thin as you can (not applicable for berries, just put those in whole), place them on a baking sheet (use a raised grate if you have one), and bake on a low heat setting (around 180F) for 4-8 hours until completely dehydrated. Check on them every hour or so and flip them to maintain an even dehydration. Once dried, you can thread twine or string through the fruit and tie them off for ornaments, string them together for garland, and stick the berries straight into the tree if the branch is still attached! If you were able to forage any nuts or seeds, you can attach these to your sliced fruit ornaments with twine as well. Of course, you can always find these supplies in your local grocery store, but foraging them yourself is even better to honor nature during the Solstice. Dehydrated fruit ornaments can last several years if done properly, or toss them in your compost and redo them each year!
2. Create your own Yule log
You may be thinking of the Christmas dessert right now, but we're talking about a REAL Yule log! The traditional dessert was actually modeled after the ancient tradition of fashioning a tree log with various natural decorations and either burning candles attached to it each day of the Solstice, or burning the whole thing in your fireplace! This tradition began as another way to honor the Winter Solstice or as an offering to Nature spirits to ensure a fruitful harvest in the Spring.
To do this, you'll want to find some sort of log or thick branch outside - local parks or hiking trails can be good sources. Now, it's time to get creative! You can forage your own decorations like you did for the tree ornaments. Pine branches, pinecones, berries, cinnamon sticks, nuts, or seeds all work. I like to attach several candles to the middle of the log by melting the bottom of the candle with a match and sticking the waxy end onto the branch until it cools and hardens. You can attach your foraged decorations to the log in the same way with melted wax. You could also use glue, but be cautious of a potential fire hazard with chemical glue. As for the candles, you could also scribe your intentions for the upcoming new year into the wax and meditate on those intentions every time the candle burns. If you don't use any glue or other flammable items for your Yule log, you can burn the entire thing in your fireplace. The timing is up to the individual - you could do it on the 21st or on the 31st, depending on what feels right for you. I personally like to burn candles on or around the Yule log each day of the Solstice until the night of the 31st. Setting up crystals or other herbs around your Yule log is an added bonus! Set this up wherever it feels right for you - whether it be on an altar, fireplace mantle, in the fireplace, or somewhere else entirely. Have fun with this one and get creative!
3. Enjoy a delicious feast on the 21st
As we already mentioned, devouring a big feast is an ancient tradition many cultures participated in to celebrate the Winter Solstice. For ancient families, this would be the last time they harvested from their gardens or hunted protein and were about to enter weeks of barren cold, and only eating what they preserved from previous harvests. Enjoying one last feast before entering into these Winter months has always been a perfect way to honor Nature spirits and hope for the return of Spring soon. Get together with your closest friends or family, and spend time giving thanks for the delicious meal in preparation for the rebirth of the Sun next year. Extra points for preparing a meal with ingredients from your own garden!
4. Hold your own Winter Solstice festival/ceremony
Cultures across the world have held major ceremonies and festivals to celebrate the death and rebirth of the Sun, and you can create this same experience in your own home! Invite your closest friends, family, and loved ones into your home (or out in nature) to honor the season ahead and get into the Solstice spirit. You can exchange gifts (nature-based gifts are a plus), participate in group meditation, talk about each of your intentions for the upcoming season and new year, or devour that delicious feast! Arranging for the group to participate in foraging or creating the tree ornaments or Yule log that were previously stated would be a great way to spend time honoring nature with your loved ones, too. Gathering with loved ones during this time has been important for ancient cultures who celebrated these traditions because it livens your spirit and prepares you for the cold season ahead.
5. Deep clean yourself and your home (spiritually and physically)
One of the best ways to get ready for the Winter season ahead and honor the Solstice is by doing a deep clean of your environment to prepare for the new year and invite a warm Spring season to come soon.
Physically, you can finally organize that junk drawer, donate those clothes you never wear, and do some overall cleaning like washing bed sheets, vacuuming, or general tidying. Since we fortunately live in the modern world where we don't have to suffer through winter without crops, making a trip to the grocery store and stocking your pantry is another great way to honor the upcoming season. Once your home is physically clean, it must be spiritually cleaned.
Cleansing your environment and yourself spiritually can mean lots of different things depending on the individual. Some examples are: smoke cleansing with herb bundles or incense, burning protection candles, placing sigils on doors with protective oils or under your doormat with black salt, placing protective crystals (like Tourmaline, Onyx, or Obsidian) around doorways and windowsills, putting salt or black salt in each corner of the home, making protection jars/spells or sound cleansing with singing bowls or high frequency music. Practicing release rituals are another great option. One example is writing anything you want to release before entering Winter and the new year on a piece of paper or bay leaf, and burning it while meditating with the visual of them being released from your body and absorbed into the Universe. This could be people, feelings, habits, or harmful thoughts that you want to release before entering the change of season and wrapping up the calendar year.
Taking the time to clean your physical and energetic space is a classic way to "set the tone" for the Winter Solstice, or any significant time of year for that matter. It aides in preparing you for the season ahead and can even help with things like seasonal depression until the warm Springtime comes.
I wish everyone a beautiful Winter Solstice! If you decide to practice any of these ideas, I would love to hear about it by commenting below or messaging our Instagram @frankiescrystals. If nothing else, be sure to take the time to practice self-care and show yourself a little extra love during this time. Blessed Be!