Winter Solstice is of course, the longest night and shortest day of the year. Solstice in Latin actually means “The Sun Stands Still.” And so it is — the Sun has stopped retreating but hasn’t yet begun to come back. As I’ve discovered more about the Winter Solstice, I’ve learned that different cultures around the world have honored the Sun and its rebirth.
For instance in India, Pongol is the Hindu Solstice celebration. The Hopi Indians have a ritual where they light fires to energize and entice the safe return of “The Light.” In Japan, Winter Solstice is a time when the Sun Goddess Amaterasu would come out of her cave. Hanukkah actually means “Festival of Lights.” And Christians around the world celebrate Christmas, a time when the Christ child brings back light and a renewal of hope to the world.
Today, many people celebrate the holidays of the season — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa — without thinking about their Winter Solstice origins. In fact, most of the holiday customs and traditions of December — miraculous events, giving gifts, celebrating with family, decorating with lights, pine cones, Yule logs, even the colors white, red and green — are actually connected to ancient Winter Solstice celebrations.
We like to say a special prayer to “Welcome the Return of Light.” It goes like this:
May darkness give way to Light.
We are awake within the Night.
Turn the Wheel to bring the Light.
With the powers of Fire, Air, Water and Earth,
we welcome the Light.
Strengthen our hope.
Fill us with Peace.
Each flame is a reminder of the Life force.