December 21 is the darkest day of the year. Few of us modern peeps even notice it, except maybe to draw a sigh of relief that the light will begin to return now. Even fewer actually celebrate the winter soltice.
But the older I get, the more meaningful it feels to do so. The more connected I feel to the earth, to the seasons, to the cyclical nature of life, the more natural it feels for me to somehow mark the shift from dark to light, (and back again, on Midsummer).
Where I live, in Sweden, these shifts are huge. The dark season is DARK, with a sun that barely makes it above the horizon, and in the summer, barely sets at all. Living with this kind of darkness can be challenging, but it can also be beautiful and meaningful. Even a bit magical.
Because darkness is more than the abscense of light. It can be a nurturing presence, an invitation to slow down and look inwards. To notice things we don’t see when it’s light. The starlight, the shadow world, the way our senses sharpen when we can’t rely solely on our eyesight. It can be so very restful – if we heed that invitation. But we rarely do. It’s not built into our culture to let the changes of seasons affect our lives like that, to allow for slow periods, for hibernation and gestation.
Well, you know how I feel about that. I want to do it differently. Celebrating the winter solstice is part of it.
I know Christmas is around the corner. The last thing you might want is another thing on your to do-list. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It can be simple. A noticing, a conscious slowing down and noticing.
It can be a moment in the evening when the house is quiet when you turn off the lights and light a candle. A moment spent pondering what you’re leaving behind in the dark, and what you’re inviting in as you move into the light.
I’ve done it like that for a few years. Just me, a private little ceremony. But last year I felt like inviting the rest of the family and make it a part of our holiday season. I want to show my kids (without lecturing them) that there is more to this season than shopping and exchanging presents. Before the Christian tradition of Christmas there was Yule, the celebration of the new solar year and the return of light. I want them to know about Frigga, the northern goddess who wove fate into being on her spinning wheel, and how her wheel – called “hjul” in Swedish and Norse – gave name to Yule. (Christmas is still called Jul in Sweden).
I want them to know where they come from. I want to anchor them in a tradition that is nourishing, that invites them to pay attention to the shifting seasons and the land they walk upon.
In doing so, we’re also removing some of the extreme focus on Christmas Eve. You know, the months of build up to that one day. It’s stressful, not just for us adults who are making it happen, but for the kids as well.
So, this is what will happen in our home on the 21st:
1. No electrical light in the house for the entire day. Only candles and fire (the Christmas tree exempted, see below) in order to really experience and rest in the dark. No computers or smartphones.
2. we’ll decorate the Christmas tree – finally! The lights from the tree will be the exception to the rule of no electrical light, because Yule trees are magical.
3. For those who are up for it – a bath in the freezing lake, to really rinse off everything sluggish or old. It’s not for the faint of heart but I’m telling you, the rush of fire in your veins afterwards is exhilirating.
4. Back home, we’ll light a fire , inside or outside depending on weather. (The fire represents the returning light but you don’t have to make it into a thing if you don’t want to, kids love a good fire regardless).
5. on litte scraps of paper, We’ll write what we’re letting go of (with the fading darkness), and what we’re inviting in (with the returning light), and then we throw the scraps into the fire.
6. We’ll have a picnic style feast lit by all the candles we can find in the house. Nothing that needs to be cooked since We want to keep it simple. Also, the kitchen is a bit dark without the electric light 🙂 We’ll likely be playing some cards or a board game or two.
7. We’ll end it all with a sleepover on the living room floor, in front of the fireplace. Just bring out some matresses and sleep the whole family together in the dark. Yep, this was the kids’ idea, but I have to admit it’s kind of cosy 🙂
Nothing fancy, nothing expensive, no big party. Just us, spending some very special time together before the rush of Christmas.
Wishing you a blessed Yule, whichever way you do (or don’t do) it.