Celebrating the Darkest Day of the Year

A few years ago, I stumbled across the idea of throwing a winter solstice party. Traditionally a pagan holiday, it’s an opportunity for anyone to celebrate the point when the earth is at its farthest rotational tilt from the sun. Meaning it’s the darkest day of the year. But also that each successive day holds more light.

A thousand years ago, people around the world celebrated the winter solstice in some form to mark the passage of winter. The solstice signified the death and rebirth of the sun. For a people fully dependent on nature and community, it would have meant more than just the return of the light; it would have been a symbol of hope.

I believe we carry within us an ancestral urge to connect to nature, because, for hundreds of thousands of years, we relied on the living world to sustain ourselves. Maybe the melancholic winter ache I experience each season stems not only from a lack of vitamin D, but a traditional observance that is missing from our culture. Celebrating the winter solstice is a way to reconnect to the natural world during a season that can be isolating.

Photo Bri Loveall

At the very least, throwing a winter solstice party is a great opportunity to eat and drink with friends and family, which is why I’ve hosted one each December 21 for the last few years. Here are a few ideas to get you started on your own solstice party:

Photo Courtesy Bri Loveall

Bring the outside in: Do you already have a Yule tree up? Perfect. You’re halfway done with adorning your space with natural elements. Go for a walk and responsibly collect fallen pinecones and pine boughs. Last year I opted to keep most of my Christmas décor (read: plastic) in storage. Instead, I dried orange slices and hung them around my windows and created aromatic bouquets from eucalyptus and rosemary bundles I purchased from the store.

Photo By Bri Loveall

Turn down the lights: There is something about artificial lighting that will always feel off-putting. I’ve yet to come across a man-made light source that encapsulates the warmth and glow of late afternoon sunlight streaming through a window (and yes, I’ve tried the happy lamps). Bring out those votives shoved in the back of your junk drawer and eat your solstice meal by candlelight. Light a fire or, weather permitting, have a bonfire.

Turn up the (right) volume: Create a moody and whimsical playlist that echoes our deep-seated need for human connection. Or borrow mine here.

Photo By Bri Loveall
Photo by Bri Loveall

Source winter provisions: No solstice party is complete without traditional wassail, a hot mulled cider or wine infused with cinnamon, lemon, clove, orange and other spices. Not only does it taste amazing, but it smells delicious. Serve alongside a savory pot pie, creamy soup (my family loves butternut squash), and homemade bread.

Get out there: Give back to nature and decorate an outdoor tree with homemade birdseed ornaments, fresh or dried apple rings, cheerio garlands, or empty egg cartons filled with cranberries. (Remember to use only twine or other natural materials when creating garlands and fastening ornaments to trees.)

Photo By Bri Loveall

Set your intentions: Winter slows us down. Everything seems to move at a glacial pace (especially my children, who seem to forget how to put on their snow gear every year). But the winter solstice is the perfect time for pause and reflection. It is not the list making of a new year’s resolution, but a period of dreaming before the rush of the warmer months begins. This is the time to imagine a summer garden, learn a new craft, or read a book that celebrates the winter season. It’s a time to follow nature’s lead; unhurried and unbothered as we experience the annual death of the sun and our rotation toward light again.

Bri Loveall is a freelance writer and photographer. This winter she’ll finally teach her children how to ski.

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