The Winter Solstice is a time of cleansing, renewal, and purification.
In the Northern Hemisphere the Solstice occurs when the sun is at its furthest Southern point creating the shortest day and longest night of the year. This year it occurs on Dec. 21, at 5:02 a.m. EST.
Native peoples did not assume the sun would return, bringing warmth and light unless they made their prayers and ceremonies to ask the sun to begin his journey back to warm the Earth Mother so that life could continue.
I always wondered why so many religions celebrated a festival of light around this time of year. When I met Sun Bear, moved west, and was introduced to the time of Earth Renewal, which really is the origin of all these other festivals. I learned tribal peoples honored the earth at the winter solstice because they lived close to the land and knew it was important for humans to work with all the elements of earth and sky. They did not take life for granted and assume the sun would always rise even if people did not thank the sun for its important part in the life cycle. No sun meant no more life on earth. This knowledge made everything about the other holidays make more sense to me. Originally, they were not just a time of materialism, of asking. They were also a time of giving thanks for the many gifts nature gives to us each day. Ideally this is something we would do daily. For those of us who do not earth renewal can give us a reminder that we need to thank nature for light, for life.
The ceremonies done before and on the winter solstice are the most important seasonal ceremonies of the year because they help life on earth to continue. In the years I lived with the Bear Tribe on Vision Mountain we would cleanse to prepare for the solstice by fasting, and by cleaning all our homes both physically and spiritually. On the longest night of the year we would truly remind ourselves of the importance of the sun by putting all the fires to sleep. Since we depended upon woodstoves for warmth, this made for a long, cold night when we deeply realized the importance of the sun and its gift, fire. We would clean out the stoves and the fire pits, and all this time we would be praying hard for the sun, for light and warmth to return.
Before dawn on the day of the solstice we would start a fire in the old way, with sticks and tinder, not matches or lighters, hoping it would come to life if and when the sun returned. Fortuitously, each time we did it that happened. Then we would take burning sticks from that fire to light the stoves in our homes reminding us of how our daily comfort was connected to the sun. When the rocks in the original fire pit were heated, we would go into the sweat lodge to complete our spiritual cleansing. This was followed by a day of ceremony, feasting and giveaways. To learn more about them, read my blog from Dec. 17, 2018 which describes them in detail.
How do I now honor the solstice? I do cleanse my home and myself and celebrate some of the other ceremonies I learned on Vision Mountain. Feel free to use any of these that are comfortable for you to do.
Most importantly, I make my prayers of thanksgiving for the year that is passing. Admittedly, that is difficult to do for 2020. But think of all you have learned about yourself and your relationships in this year. Think of how the quarantine has allowed the earth to be cleansed from some of the pollutants society has created. Always there is reason for gratitude.
I make prayers that the sun will return. And if it does, I make prayers of thanksgiving. It is difficult for modern humans not to take this for granted. But the more we recognize our deep relationship with all our relations on the earth – the elementals, minerals, plants, animals, spirit forces – the healthier we become. Our increased awareness also helps the earth to heal. We are all truly connected.