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By Witchipedia, Calendar

Winter Solstice: Celebrating, Magick & Divination

Updated on:

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Written by: Dawn Black (Witchipedia)

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Reviewed by: Tina Caro

The winter solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year when the sun appears at noontime to be at its lowest altitude above the horizon of the year. It occurs around December 20-22 in the Northern Hemisphere and around June 20-22 in the Southern Hemisphere.

The winter solstice marks the moment when Sun is at its weakest and can only grow stronger as time progresses until it reaches its peak strength at the summer solstice and begins its gradual decline.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

The Winter Solstice is a significant astronomical event that occurs around December 21st in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the shortest day and longest night of the year.

It’s a time to welcome the return of the sun, embrace the rebirth of light, and engage in various divination and ritual practices to harness this transformative energy.

Celebrations often include lighting candles, bonfires, or Yule logs and performing ceremonies to honor nature, ancestors, and deities.

These rituals can provide a sense of connection, renewal, and spiritual growth during the darkest time of the year.

Ancient Significance of the Winter Solstice

There is quite a body of evidence to suggest that the winter solstice was an important annual event in the lives of ancient people. Stonehenge (whose construction began in the 2000s BCE) appears to be aligned to the sunset on the winter solstice while Newgrange (Built in the 3000s BCE) is arranged so that the light from the sunrise on the morning of the winter solstice floods the inner chamber.

Folkloric and archaeological evidence as well as the historical record suggests that the Winter Solstice was a time of religious celebration for many pre-Christian cultures, often celebrating the return of the light as the return, triumph, birth or rebirth of a God.

AspectDescription
DateDecember 21st or 22nd (Northern Hemisphere)
Also Known AsYule, Midwinter
SignificanceShortest day of the year, rebirth of the sun
Cultural OriginsPagan, particularly Norse and Celtic traditions
Common SymbolsEvergreens, Yule log, candles, sun imagery
Table: Winter Solstice Overview

Wonderful Ways to Celebrate the Winter Solstice

If you’d like to celebrate the winter solstice this year in a way that resonates with the festival’s traditions, you’ll find some ideas to get started below. All of these simple little celebrations are about saying thank you and goodbye to the old year and looking ahead to the return of the sun as the wheel turns.

CultureTraditional CelebrationsModern Adaptations
NorseYule Log burning, feastingYule log decoration, family gatherings
CelticHonouring the Oak King and Holly King, storytellingOak and holly decorations, sharing stories
RomanSaturnalia festival, gift-givingThemed parties, gift exchanges
SlavicKoliada, caroling, and feastingCaroling, winter festivals
Table: Traditional Winter Solstice Celebrations

Create a Midwinter Altar

If you already have an altar, it’s a wonderful time to dress it for midwinter – or to create a new altar if you don’t. You may want to lay a piece of cloth on your altar to begin: the colors associated with the winter solstice are red, green, and blue – it’s a good idea to place candles of these colors on your altar, too.

Holly, poinsettia, Christmas cactus, and ivy are perfect additions to a mid-winter altar, as do the herbs bay, chamomile, blessed thistle, cinnamon, holly, evergreen, juniper, frankincense, sage, and yellow cedar.

It’s traditional to put glittery, sparkly items on a winter solstice altar, to represent the return of the sun. These could be anything from colorful baubles that you love to pretty ornaments.

To keep with tradition, ring a small bell over your altar. According to folklore, this will ward off evil spirits and ill-will that could crop up during the course of the darker months.

Crystal Meditation for New Growth

The mid-winter solstice marks the time of year when seeds are lying dormant in the earth – but this dormancy is a crucial element of their lifecycle. They are preparing to grow come spring. To celebrate midwinter, you could try a crystal meditation for self-reflection, and to identify the potential within you and the limiting beliefs that could be standing in your way.

Crystals associated with Yule that you could use for this meditation include:

Find a quiet place to sit or lie down with your crystal (s) held lightly in the palm of your hand. If you like, you could sit or lie within a circle of crystals, if this feels right. Take a few deep breaths, calm your mind, and allow the tension to drift out of your body.

Obsidian and citrine combination
Copyright: Tina Caro

Reflect on the things that you have achieved in the last year and your deepest dreams and desires for the new one to come. Think about the beliefs you have that may have been holding you back, such as a conviction that you’re ‘not good enough’ or don’t deserve the life you want.

Now visualize what you want manifesting: don’t just see it, but imagine what this would feel like, and all the sensations connected with it. 

For example, if you want a promotion in your job, imagine yourself walking into the office and heading to your new desk: hear the hustle and bustle going on around you, and the feel of the carpet beneath your shoes.

Think about the tasks you will undertake, where you will go for lunch, and what you’ll spend your boosted wage packet on. In your mind, visualize the light from your crystal infusing the scene, powerfully setting your intention.

At the end of the meditation, write down the first step you’ll need to take to manifest your desires. This could be as simple as looking into a course to brush up on your accounting skills or committing to practice yoga for ten minutes a day. These are the seeds from which your dream will grow.

celebrating winter solstice by tina caro magickal spot
Copyright: Tina Caro

Decorate an Outdoor Winter Solstice Tree

While the tradition of decorating an indoor tree for Yule is well known, how about having fun decorating an outdoor tree this year, with gifts for wildlife? This is a lovely way to mark the solstice and help the animals for whom food supplies may have become scarce – kids are sure to enjoy getting involved, too!

There are lots of DIY food ornaments you can make to decorate the tree, but be sure to only use foodstuffs that are safe for wildlife, and don’t use fishing lines or anything that birds or other animals could get caught up in.

Here are some ideas for your edible food tree:

Peanut Butter Pinecones

For this one, you’ll need a handful of pinecones, some string, organic peanut butter, and a cup or two of birdseed. Start by cutting small pieces of string and tie each to the top of a pinecone.

Now, pour the birdseed into a bowl. Finally, spread each pinecone in peanut butter, and then roll it in the birdseed – fun!

Now you’re peanut butter pinecones are ready to hang on the branches of your outdoor mid-winter tree.

Popcorn and Cranberry Garland

Birds and squirrels will love this addition to your tree! All you need to gather is a cup of unbuttered, unsalted popped popcorn, a couple of handfuls of fresh cranberries, some strong thread, and a needle. 

Start by threading the needle, and stringing the first cranberry onto the thread. Knot the thread to make an anchor at the end. You can string the popcorn and cranberries any way you wish: one popcorn, one cranberry, or a more complicated pattern. You can create a few smaller garlands for your tree, or one long one by stringing several shorter garlands together.

Orange Bird Feeders

For this decoration, you’ll need to gather together an orange, two cups of birdseed, 200 grams of lard or vegetable fat, some string, and a handful of bamboo skewers, sticks, or twigs – this will make two bird feeders for your winter solstice tree.

Start by cutting the orange in half and scooping out the center of each half – you can save this yumminess to eat later! Now it’s time to get the lard or vegetable fat and roll it into two balls; these will be going back into the center of the orange halves.

Next, roll each ball in a bowl of birdseed until they’re completely covered in the mixture. Once this is done, place one in each of the orange halves, and top up with extra seeds if needed. Push two bamboo skewers (or sticks) carefully through the halves to create ledges for the birds to perch on as they eat.

Finally, attach a piece of string to each of these skewers or sticks and create a knot at the top, ready to hang on your mid-winter tree.

Rituals to Mark Mid-Winter

If you’d like to connect with the spiritualism of the winter solstice, try one of these rituals, each of which is all about embracing the stillness of the season, setting intentions, and deep inner reflection.

Greet the Dawn

On the morning of the winter solstice, wrap up snugly and step out into the crisp air to welcome the dawn.

Engage all your senses as you watch the stars gradually fade from the pre-dawn sky and soft light come into the world. Pay close attention to the sounds you can hear, the fragrances in the air, and the feel of the ice-touched wind on your cheeks.

As the light comes up, offer a prayer, blessing, or words of thanks – either in your mind or out loud – expressing your gratitude and appreciation for the beauty and peace, and the beginning of the drawing out of the days.

Before you leave, you may wish to leave an offering of gratitude. This can be whatever feels right: hang a homemade feeder for the birds (like the ones above) on the branches of a tree, pour a little water on the ground, or leave a small bouquet of dried herbs.

Let your intuition guide you.

Make a Yule Log

With its roots in ancient Celtic and Norse traditions, Yule logs were burnt to celebrate the returning sun and the triumph of the light over the dark. A modern Yule log ritual remains a lovely way to celebrate the winter solstice. 

yule log by tina caro magickal spot
Copyright: Tina Caro

For your Yule log, either buy a suitable log from a store or select one that has fallen from a tree and is the right shape and size. Decorate your log with symbols of the season, such as evergreen, holly, and ivy, and add some ribbons in red, green, and blue.

If you like, you may wish to carefully carve words, sigils, or your intentions for the new year into the log, too.

When you’re ready, you can burn your Yule log either in a fireplace or in a suitable, safe place outdoors. Traditionally, there would be days of celebration and feasting following the burning of the Yule log, so why not arrange a gathering of friends or family members to join in the festivities and welcome in the solstice together?

A Simple Candle Ritual to Invite the Light

With the winter solstice, it’s time to say goodbye to the old year, and it’s okay to feel some sadness around this, especially if we have lost someone special to us during this time, or have experienced sadness or pain.

A candle ritual is a peaceful means of seeing out and honoring the year just gone, before starting afresh.

  • Simply find a quiet space, light a candle, and relax, watching the flame.
  • When you’re ready, reflect on the last year, what happened, what it meant to you, and the people, situations, or things that are no longer.
  • Then blow out the candle, and take a moment or two to allow yourself to feel any sadness or sense of loss that’s been evoked.
  • Welcome this sensation, rather than try to push it down, and fully experience it.

Now it’s time to relight the candle. Once more look into its flame, and contemplate your hopes and dreams for the coming year.

Feel hope and inner warmth ignite in your heart, and allow a sense of optimism to shine upon you, like a newly risen sun.

Winter Solstice Magick

The energy of the winter solstice supports magick related to turning points, changes, new beginnings, home and hearth, family relationships, world peace, and personal renewal. It is also a good time for any magic related to the Sun. The moment of sunrise is the best time.

Winter Solstice Divination

On the evening of the solstice, place two mirrors so that they reflect two candles and each other. Search for the seventh reflection in the mirror. There you will see the reflection of your one true love.

Winter Solstice Festivals

  • The Beiwe Festival is celebrated by the Sámi people of Finland
  • BrumaliaSaturnalia and Sol Invictus were celebrated in Rome and may have evolved from Kronia and Lenæa in ancient Greece
  • The Dongzhi Festival is still celebrated in China and throughout East Asia
  • Inti Raymi was celebrated by the Incans
  • Junkanoo is a syncretic West African festival that spread with slavery to the American South and the Caribbean.
  • Karachun, Rozhanitsa Feast and Koleda are ancient Slavic festivals
  • The Feast of Lucia is celebrated in Scandinavia
  • Anglo-Saxon paganism celebrates Mōdraniht
  • Mummer’s Day is celebrated among Cornish Celts
  • The Irish Celtic midwinter festival is Meán Geimhridh
  • Some modern Druids celebrate Alban Arthan
  • Şewy Yelda is the Kurdish midwinter festival
  • The Zuni and Hopi of North America celebrate Soyal
  • The Germanic peoples have celebrated Yule for centuries.
  • Ziemassvētki is celebrated in Latvia and the Baltic States.
  • Yaldā is the Persian, festival of the birth of Mithra
  • Heliogenna is the modern Hellenismos festival of the Winter Solstice.

Winter Solstice Dates

YearNorthern HemisphereSouthern Hemisphere
2022December 21June 21
2023December 21June 21
2024December 21June 20
2025December 21June 20
2026December 21June 21

Welcoming the Winter Solstice with a Hopeful Heart

So there you have it, some ways to celebrate mid-winter, and a few rituals to try out to mark the solstice. Whether you choose to honor Yule with quiet contemplation or enjoy a feast with loved ones (or both!) embrace the magic of the season with hope, love, and gratitude in your heart.

Image Credit gdizerega (CC0), Pixabay

About Morningbird (Witchipedia's Founder)

I am a homesteading hearth witch who grew up along the shores of the Hudson River and has lived among the Great Lakes for the past 20 years. Together with my musical husband and youngest child, I steward a one-acre mini homestead with herb, vegetable and flower gardens, chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits, and areas reserved for native plants and wildlife. 

I have three children; two are grown, and I have been practicing magick alone and with family and friends for over 30 years.

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