Forget stressful shopping and draw on Pagan practices to celebrate the official start of winter with these pre-Christmas rituals…

By mid-December it’s likely you’ve consumed more booze and cheese-based snacks than at any other time of the year, spent most of your overdraft, or had at least one emotional breakdown about the prospect of spending time with your family. Yes, the festive season may be full of fun and frippery, but it can also be a challenging time. Which is why the idea of taking a pause to celebrate the winter solstice with a little reflection and connection sounds like my cup of eggnog.

Simply put, the winter solstice occurs at one instant on the shortest day of the year. It is the moment at which, for the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is at its lowest position in the sky. So on Wednesday 20th December we’ll have the longest night, with the sun not rising until 8:04am on Thursday morning. It may feel like winter already, but 21st December actually marks the first day of the new season (according to astronomy). Great news, right!?

Well actually it is. The day after the winter solstice marks the beginning of lengthening days, leading up to the summer solstice in June. Hallelujah, the days of feeling like you could fall asleep at your desk at 4pm are numbered! If you want to celebrate the return of the light you’re not alone; the winter solstice has been marked by cultures around the world for aeons.

In Austria, people dress up like Krampus (a half-demon, half-goat counterpart to Santa Claus) to terrorise and tease kids (weird but apparently fun) and in Japan, people traditionally soak in hot baths with the yuzu citrus fruit to protect their bodies from the common cold. One of the most famous celebrations in the world today though, happens at our very own Stonehenge, where thousands of Druids and Pagans gather to chant, dance, kiss the stones and throw in a few yoga poses while waiting to see the sunrise. Putting the questionable sartorial choices on display there aside (full-length capes and the odd antler headdress), the ancient ruins are perfectly aligned with the sun’s movement and, according to English Heritage, may have been a sacred place of worship and celebration for solstices for thousands of years.

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If Stonehenge sounds a bit hard-core for you, luckily the market for gatherings and rituals with a side of style are on the rise. Think less hemp and dreadlocks and a more artfully arranged crystal mandalas. Just search for #wintersolstice on Instagram for a flavour of the 236,000 posts of everything from make-up looks, to homemade dreamcatcher wreaths and candle-lit alters.

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Why celebrate the start of winter?

At this time of year, it’s easy to get so absorbed in frantically shopping, downing mulled wine and tying up loose ends at work so you can actually relax at Christmas, that we can forget to notice what’s going on around us. Huddled in coats and rushing from the cold into centrally-heated homes and workplaces, we become numb to the rhythms of nature. The winter solstice offers an opportunity to recognise the cyclical order of the cosmos and remember that our lives are part of something bigger that is always changing and renewing.

“nature is our biggest teacher”

As Jayne Goldheart, an amazingly open and inspiring woman who runs Sisters of the Wild, which hosts weekend gatherings of women in Wales for digital detox, weaving workshops and such fun pursuits as reggae yoga on the spring and autumn equinoxes says, “nature is our biggest teacher”. So why gather specifically as the seasons change? “Marking the equinoxes is a time where we can bring ritual into our lives, be in community and connect to nature, she says. “Having marker points throughout the year for reflections and intentions can set how the next phase of the cycle unfolds. When we can be in tune with the natural cycles of Earth, we can learn to flow and be guided with our own natural rhythms.”

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Modern life makes attuning to the subtle changes and cycles of the seasons pretty challenging, but if we can, we might just help ourselves attune more lovingly to the subtle changes and cycles in ourselves. Creating deliberate touchstones in the form of rituals with personal meaning helps see us through the festive season with less angst. Kate Stuart, an artist who owns The Phoenix Green Store, where she uses recycled and reclaimed materials to make household textiles, zero waste solutions and artwork for eco-conscious consumers, emailed to tell me about why this is especially important to her this year.

“holding to my traditions and my rituals seems more important than ever”

“Mum died on winter solstice last year and I’ve wondered all year how I will feel as the time comes closer again. I didn’t mark the sabbat last year, and as the days have shortened, I’ve been sad, and considered not marking the turn of this year either. But thinking about my beliefs has given me the chance to feel into how I want to mark this year and actually, holding to my traditions and my rituals seems more important than ever.”

Having been raised in a very religious Catholic family, Kate grew up feeling it wasn’t acceptable to practice Pagan rituals, though was very drawn to connecting with the seasons, so kept her ceremonies to herself. “As I got older, and found likeminded people, it was easier to be more open about it, though even now I don’t broadcast it much.” Indeed, it’s easy to mock Pagans and Druids, though the religion rooted in Britain’s heritage is attracting a growing number of people who identify as ‘spiritual but not religious’. Many point to the focus on worshipping nature and lack of doctrine as reasons for this growth, which makes sense in a world in which climate change sceptics occupy the highest offices.

The chance for a mini hibernation and a chance to renew your energy for the year to come does sound appealing, as Kate explains, “Of all the sabbats, winter solstice has always been the one I connect the most with – it’s a time of rebirth, of letting go of what has been and embracing the new, the possibilities, the opportunities for growth, and the joy of being able to welcome back the light which is so vital to life. Having a point in the year I can anchor myself to and meditate on the year past and the year to come feels important and I look forward to having quiet reflective time.”

Create your own winter solstice ritual:

We may not think of traditions like our yearly Christmas office party, decorating the tree with baubles, or gathering with friends and family to gorge on turkey as rituals, but the act of performing any action or ceremony in a customary way like this is just that. Unlike Christmas though, the solstice provides an opportunity to create a ritual that really serves you. Here are a couple of ideas:


Kate has a super simple ritual you can do at home, perfect for beginners with only enough cash to stretch to a tea light: “Find a quiet place at home and light a candle. Watch the flame dance, hold in your mind the eternal cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. Reflect on the year past, and consider that which would benefit you to let go of. Blow out the candle and sit in the dark and the quiet for as long as you wish. When you are ready, light the candle once more, and cast intentions for the year to come.”


Suddenly whipping out your plan to form a drum circle might be too much, too soon for your friends, but pick and choose the elements that feel right from Jayne’s ideas: “Come out of hibernation to reconnect with friends and celebrate with community and nature. Watch the sun come up and celebrate the inward journey we have made through winter, gather natural items to make an altar, celebrate and share, sing and drum!”


If you really want to do Winter Solstice right, take inspiration from Jayne, who is spending this solstice in California with friends and says, “We plan to go into the desert and create rituals for life, death and rebirth. We’ll be having a ‘funeral’ for one woman who is about to change her name and wishes to release her old story, and I’ve been holding onto some anger around the breakdown of my marriage so want a space to be able to scream and let the emotion rise out of my belly so that I can move forward. And of course there will be drumming, dancing and singing as part of the celebration of rebirth.” Beats sausage rolls and naff jumpers for a Christmas ritual, don’t you agree?

This article originally appeared on The Debrief 

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