It’s five o’clock in the evening and it’s DARK. Even though it’s still reasonable fall weather here in Philadelphia, every fiber of my being is telling me it’s time to hunker down. In the last several years I’ve been longing for holiday traditions that align with my witchy, earth-loving, radical world view, while still keeping room for nostalgia and accessibility for a range of beliefs and practices. Partly this is because I have a three year old daughter, and I’m thinking seriously about what she learns and what memories we’re creating. Holidays teach values. The ways we celebrate communicate layers of lessons. And, for this reason, I also want traditions that don’t just feel like work and obligation for me. I want to be invested in more than the aesthetic of my holidays. I want it to be more than time off. I even want it to be more than good food and time with loved ones. I want MEANING.
This year, with Coronavirus raging and so many traditions disrupted, making the winter holidays special feels more important than ever. And uniquely challenging. Luckily, many of these traditions can be done with the materials you already have, and on your own/with your immediate family!
Return to the Roots of “Christmas”
Winter Solstice is the perfect opportunity to look waaaaay back to pre-Christian traditions. Since most Christmas traditions are based on European pagan roots, there’s a lot to work with by just scratching the surface. As you engage in the following activities, talk about the WHY’s:
bringing evergreens into the home is a reminder that life is ongoing, even though most of the world looks barren (at least, it does here in the Northern Hemisphere)
Exchanging gifts is a reminder of abundance in a time of relative scarcity.
Giving gifts to children in particular is a gratitude for the light that they bring into the world and the joy that they share with us daily
The theme of birth and hope are directly correspondent to the slow return of the light, following the darkest night of the year
So, if you are a Christmas celebrator already, just shifting how you talk about and think about the traditions can be enough. I grew celebrating Hannukkah and Christmas, and it’s a little harder to spin the war story of the Maccabees into this tradition. But still, there is the miracle of light. And that seems to be a thread through many religious traditions this time of year.
I also HIGHLY recommend reading Gather Victoria’s fabulous blog post “Doe, A Deer, A Female Reindeer: The Spirit of Mother Christmas.” In it, Danielle Proham Olson reveals some surprising facts about reindeer, details about Solstice goddess traditions that you will love, and lots of gorgeous pictures for inspiration. Share this blog post with your kids - especially older ones who have moved past the Santa stage.
Spend more time in the Dark
But I want more than just a new spin on old traditions. Two years ago I took inspiration from my friend Laura, who has been hosting a candlelight party on Solstice. I decided that I, too, would have a candlelight party, AND I would have a full 24 hours with no electric light. I want to experience, in some limited, but honest way, what it feels like to actually adapt my actions to the rhythms of the earth. Our ancestors spent so much more time in the darkness. I find that keeping the lights low in winter and using lots of candlelight around the house helps to soothe my nervous system. Try it! Even for a day or two, try limiting the electric lights in your house. If you have kids, make a game out of it. Notice how different things are, and how your soul feels, when we allow ourselves time in the darkness.
This is an especially good one for this year, when so much feels monotonous. What would a whole day (or more) with no electric lights, no tv, no video games, feel like?? We’re looking forward to this in my house and planning all the activities we’ll do during this time.
Do Ritual with Children
Children hold a special place at Solstice time. We believe that all children are the carriers of the light and the hope. To continue with the candlelight theme, this year on Solstice, I will have my daughter help light the candles at sundown, starting our 24 hours of no electric light. We’ll sing songs, and say a blessing for the darkest night. I definitely recommend coming up with some ritual that allows kids to interact with candle lighting. It’s really magical to them, and teaches them about the beauty of the darkness when everything rests, and the return of the light that helps everything grow. Here’s a prayer suggestion for lighting the candles together
“bless the darkness that helps life to rest
and bless the light that helps life to grow”
Say this for each candle! By the last candle, you’ll have it memorized!
I bet you’ve heard this word in the carol “here we go a wassailing.” But do you know what this tradition is?!? I just learned it, and I’m so excited. It’s singing to spirit of the trees (particularly apple trees) and offering a libation of cider so that they grow strong and healthy in the coming year. You can also expand this tradition to singing to the spirits of any tree or plant that you love.
If you live in a place that experiences drought and/or forest fire, this is an especially meaningful way to weave the magic of strength and protection around the trees we love.
Re-write Carols, Make New Songs
I love singing. And my family listens to the Christmas holiday playlist all month long. But these songs definitely lack the spiritual, earthy, goddess-y magic that we infuse into so many other parts of the holiday. The song below was passed down to me by a beloved elder witch back when I was just a teenager. I’ve shared it with so many kids and families, and we all love it. I hope you and your family feel inspired to sing it and share it, too!
(to the tune of Greensleeves)
What child is this
Who brings such light
That all who see her grow hopeful
The Solstice Candles this darkest night
Rekindle a flame in our soul
This, this is the Solstice Child
The maiden brilliant
The maiden wild
Come people to hold her near
The hope and the light of the new year
Happy Winter Solstice, Everyone!
In the picture above, members of my youth program, Artemis Pack, wearing solstice-goddess crowns. This is a major milestone the girls look forward to, since you have be 10 before you can wear a candle crown!