December brings up a variety of emotions and memories for people, depending on their childhood experiences and ancestry. Here in the United States we are surrounded by commercial reminders of the holiday in the hopes that we will spend, spend, spend! However this year brings financial challenges for many of us, offering the opportunity to rethink our celebrations during this season, creating new ways to honor the holiday with friends and family.
During December in the northern hemispere, most religious holy days are linked in some way to the winter solstice. This is a time of transition, of looking back at the old year and looking forward to the new. Many cultures around the world have celebrated this season for hundreds, even thousands of years as they watched the days grow shorter and waited for the sun to return.
In pre-historic times, winter was a very difficult time in the northern latitudes. The growing season had ended and the tribe had to live off stored food and the few animals they could catch. The people were troubled as the life-giving sun sank lower in the sky each noon. They feared that it would eventually disappear and leave them in permanent darkness and extreme cold. After the winter solstice they would have reason to celebrate as they observed the sun rising and strengthening once more.
Our ancient ancestors created ceremonies to honor this event, calling back the sun, the light. As we enter into this time of diminished sunlight, may we reflect on that which we have created during this past year and begin to imagine what we want to birth into the world in 2010. May we broaden our perspective and focus on the world we want to create for our descendents and ourselves. Let us imagine a world of harmony and peace, a planet of oneness, in alignment with Nature's cycles. May we envision balance and harmony, within and without. May we live in gratitude for what we have and honor the sacredness of Mother Earth and all sentient beings.
What do you want to create? How do you wish to honor this sacred season with loved ones? What family rituals do you choose to keep and what new traditions do you want to birth into being? There are many ancient traditions that you can add to your holiday celebration. John Matthews' book, The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas has many ideas that you might want to incorporate this year.
Here are some ideas…
2009 Holiday Season:
- Dec 11, 2009: First night of Hanukkah
- Dec 19, 2009: Final night of Hanukkah
- Dec 21, 2009: Winter Solstice in northern latitudes, Summer Solstice in southern latitudes
- Dec 25, 2009: Christmas
- Dec 26, 2009: Boxing Day and the first day of Kwanzaa
- Jan 6, 2010: Epiphany
Honoring Winter Solstice:
Many of these ideas come from the wonderful book by John Matthews, The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas. This book is filled with ancient traditions that can easily be incorporated into your family celebration.
A solstice candle, lit at sundown and allowed to burn in a safe place through the night, is a simple tradition deeply connected to ancient ways.
Sun-hued oranges are simple, and readily accessible, ritual and gift objects. In Japan, citrus fruits, especially the yuzu, a citron, as well as pumpkin figure prominently in traditions around winter solstice. A yuzu bath taken at winter solstice is said to bring health. Pumpkin is a traditional Japanese dish at this time of year. The traditions harken back to the days when Shinto, an ancient nature-based religion, was more prominent.
For a simple family ritual on Winter Solstice, you can pass around an orange. Each person peels off a portion of the rind, while thinking about one thing in their lives they would like to "peel away." Once it's fully peeled, the orange is passed around again. Each person eats a section, while thinking about one new wish or intention for the new year.
Honoring the directions: Many ancient cultures acknowledge and use the four compass points in their rituals. Here are some qualities for each direction in the Northern Hemisphere.
- North: cold, earth, challenge, endings, ice and snow, things waiting to germinate and be born.
- East: awakening, new life, air, peace, triumph of the spirit.
- South: fire, heat of life ripening in the earth, roots of our lives, stability.
- West: water, restless seas and wandering spirits, movement, emotion, seeking new directions.
Create a vision board: A vision board is typically a poster board on which you paste or collage images that you’ve torn out from various magazines. The idea behind this is that when you surround yourself with images of who you want to become, your life changes to match those images and those desires.
I leave you with this blessing for you and your family at this sacred holiday season.
May love and laughter light your days, and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours, wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world with joy that long endures.
May all life's passing seasons bring the best to you and yours!