The winter solstice, also known as Yule, is the longest night and the shortest day. The previous Neo-Pagan festival, Halloween/Samhain, was a celebration of death in the sense of the old dying out. Yule celebrates the coming (though not yet arrival) of the light. In assessing the past year without judgment, you can let go of what you no longer need to worry about and prepare for what you still need to achieve.
Light in the Darkness
Yule is the time to focus on bringing light and warmth into the cold and darkness of winter. It’s written that the winter solstice was a time to celebrate getting through the worst part of winter, when the life-giving sun was at its weakest. Indigenous people were closer to the land than most of us are and understood that their survival depended upon the strengthening of the sunlight to make crops bountiful later in the year. There was probably also a psychological celebration of light and warmth coming back, since the days would have had more and more darkness building up to the solstice.
The conveniences of modern life have made us forget the dependence we have on the sun for survival, so the winter solstice is a chance for us to appreciate the light and warmth that always returns to sustain existing life and grow new life. This is true on a psychological level as well. When working through a painful growth process, it can sometimes feel like there’s no end to the darkness. You have to keep trusting that the warmth and light will eventually come into your life through inner peace, greater fulfillment, and better relationships.
Yule is a time to think about what brings light into the darkness of winter. If you’re fortunate enough to have family and friends that are truly loving, supportive, and accepting of you, they can help you through the darkness of winter. Life’s small pleasures, like what you do to relax from stress, can also bring you warmth. Worry over the future can really be a downer during winter with your grey mood exacerbated by the grey weather. It helps to focus on where you want to be rather than on where you think you are. You might as well move forward and trust that things will work out than stay stuck in worry.
“Winter Solstice 2014” by Rainbow Gryphon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
The winter solstice is also a symbol of the death and rebirth process that we experience throughout our lives, over and over again. During Halloween/Samhain, there was a focus on the old dying out to make way for the new. It’s not yet time, though, to bring in the new (that happens in the spring) because rebirth requires long preparation. That’s the process that begins at this point in the cycle of the year.
Yule is a natural time to reflect on the past but without getting sucked into regrets or self-condemnation. Death is for letting go for good, not for reprimanding yourself over what you (or others) think you should or shouldn’t have done. You can imagine you’re an anthropologist instead, simply taking note of what happened, what you accomplished, and what you didn’t accomplish. Then you can identify what’s left over for you to achieve in the coming year. It’s a time to take a roll-up-your-sleeves approach to the yet-to-be accomplished.
Preparing for Rebirth
Finally, the winter solstice is a time to prepare the groundwork for planting seeds of action that will blossom in the spring. This is where goal-setting comes in. I think too many of us fall short on these because we expect too much of ourselves too quickly. Assessing the past year helps with that because you can get more realistic about the goals for the coming year.
Understanding the reasons behind your goals is also an important key to achieving them and maintaining integrity in your life. Goals do you little good in the long run if they’re not in harmony with what you really want to give. I think using the word want is really important here. Too often, we make assumptions about what we can give without really reflecting on whether it’s what we want to give. And if it’s not then we need to figure out what’s stopping us from giving what we want to give.
Rather than dive right into new year’s resolutions for the coming year, first reflect on, and even write down, the major experiences and achievements from the previous year. If there’s something you’d hoped to achieve and didn’t, you can write that down too. Then you can do a visualization of where you want to be, not necessarily in the coming year but in general. From here, you can think about things you want to shoot for in the new year, leaving yourself open for the unexpected. There doesn’t have to be any anxiety over what you did or didn’t do or what you absolutely must achieve in the coming year. It’s more about listening to the rhythm of life and making sure you’re moving with it and not against it.