Happy Solstice

I’ve begun to light candles early in the afternoons, a winter ritual to compliment the many strands of light I’ve wrapped around and woven through the darkest corners of our home.

The encroaching darkness is tempting me with thoughts of hibernation. And naps. It makes me skeptical of the necessity of whatever remains on the to-do list.

As always, this year-end darkness makes me introspective.

We’ve arrived again at the Winter Solstice, a notable astronomical event  and a celebrated moment in Scandinavian cultures since – possibly – neolithic times.

I think of the Winter Solstice as the true New Year, a celebration of beginning again as we  take a breath at the place where darkness stops gaining on us. A moment of quiet before the light begins to return.

For thousands of years, these darkest days of winter have been reserved for celebration. People instinctively gather with friends and loved ones in a collective breath of relief.

We have made it through another year, we sigh hugging one another close.

Just look at all we’ve done – learned – made, we whoop with joyful smiles and anther toast.

And look a the trials we’ve muddled through, overcome, tolerated, we grumble briefly, not pausing long on our grievances.

A simple, classic ceremony for Winter Solstice lingers on that last idea. A Releasing Ceremony is an opportunity to let go of all that holds you back and make space for growth and change in the new year. It’s an opportunity to let go of any thoughts or roadblocks or toxic, unhelpful snags have kept us stuck in the past year.

The solstice is permission to take a moment and rant. It’s okay.

It’s time to air your grievances, Seinfeld fans, but only on the condition that you will let them go. Resist the urge to revisit them. Unburden yourself and leave your energies free for something new in the new year.

I – for one – feel like I need permission to complain.

It’s not that I never do, but all of my complaints tend to land on Joe. Plus, they’re repetitive and whiny and unhelpful.

And it makes me ashamed. What do I have to complain about when so much tragedy impacts so very many others.

Parker Palmer put this shame of mine to rest in a recent post. “Forgive me,” he wrote, “for adding an apparently trivial personal problem to my list of major social ills, but we all live at the intersection of our small worlds and the big one around us. If we want to serve others, we must attend to both.”

It can feel petty, even risky if you’re superstitious, to rail against the drudgery of small problems in a world filled with immensely complicated tragedies. But tonight, because we live at the intersection of our small worlds and the big one, let’s allow ourselves to focus enough on our personal grievances to release them.

Let them go.

Write them on a sheet of paper and toss them into your solstice fire along with your Yule Log.

At this turn of a new year, let’s clear our brains of depleting worries. Let’s make room to spend tomorrow’s energy on ideas that renew and invigorate us. I, for one, will be working to develop a beginners mind, an idea I’m just learning about, but really enjoy.

In Buddhism, “beginners mind” is an attitude of openness, of self-kindness and forgiveness, allowing for mistakes, for fumbling attempts, and for earnest, persistent do-overs.

I’m still learning about beginner’s mind, weeding out the pop-Buddhism from the dogma from the nuggets of philosophical truth, but the part I love is this line from a famous Buddhist scholar, Suzuki,

“In the beginner’s mind there are many ways, in the experts mind there is only one.”

Being brave enough, vulnerable enough to approach the world as a novice, to try something new and not be great at it, and to persist anyway, that is a resolution worth keeping.

As the sun sets on the longest night of the year, I strive to internalize the  peace there is in darkness and the release that comes from facing grievances directly and sweeping them forcefully away.

I strive to begin again, with a refreshed mind.

What a wonderful stage the solstice sets as we set out to gather with loved ones over the next two weeks.


The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!


4 thoughts on “Happy Solstice

  1. I really enjoyed your post Sarah, wish I could have heard it fireside without the interruptions:) and reflected on everything a bit more, but that’s how we roll with kids I guess.
    I especially liked the “beginners mind” idea, approach. Giving ourselves the option to “trip and fall ” only seems fair.

    Friday night was a lot of fun and will be fun to build on in the future.

    Have a great Solstice!


  2. Words of wisdom indeed! I love the idea of the beginner’s mind. What a gift to give ourselves – the permission and space to learn (without the crushing pressure of doing it well the first (or second, third, fourth…) time. Big, happy sigh.

    Thank you for sharing this! (And so nice to hear it without the oblivious interruptions of our younger solstice celebrants.) 🙂


    1. Thanks, Carla. I love it too… the self-forgiveness, and the goal of staying open to many approaches rather than entrenched in the “right” one.

      Those little celebrants had an awfully good time. We’ll forgive their revelry!

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