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Wiccan Wheel of the Year: Activities and Ideas for Celebrating the Winter Solstice
Wiccan Winter Solstice Activities
It's getting dark by mid-afternoon. The bitter cold tries to grip your bones, and you find yourself not wanting to get up out from under your warm pile of blankets. And yet, underlying all this, something exciting is in the air. It's almost palpable when you step out into the cold night, the vapors of your breath sending wispy puffs up into the sky as you gaze at the clear stars. The nights are humming with electricity and you feel like something is stirring.
The Winter Solstice-- also known as Yule on the Wiccan Wheel of the Year -- is soon upon us. This year (2013) the Solstice falls on December 21st for most of the Northern Hemisphere.
For more about the Winter Solstice, look here.
The Solstice has long been a season for hoping and planning-- at this time of year, our Pagan ancestors were plunged into the depths of darkness and cold. When you have no electricity, no central heating, no corner store to run to if you run out of something it can be a very scary time. They came together to cheer each other up as the faced the darkness, and to celebrate the turning point that meant spring would be returning. The Sun's rebirth was a spark of hope they could cling to even through the darkest times.
Marking the sabbats is a great way to internalize the meaning of the season and bring all it stands for into your life. Here are some Solstice activities for you, and for your family if you don't spend Solstice alone.
Pagan Children's Book:
A great book for Pagan children to read on Solstice night. These are the kinds of traditions that will help drive home the value of the message behind our celebrations.
The Beauty of Winter
Get Into the Spirit of the Season
The spirit is one of hope, and has long been associated with giving and generosity. There is a great way to avoid getting caught up in the commercialism of the season. Don't worry about expensive gifts or making a big production out of gift exchanges. Instead, give to those truly in need.
- Collect and bring canned goods to a food pantry, or blankets for a homeless shelter.
- Look on Wish Upon a Hero for people who are lonely, and all they want is a card for the holiday season-- send them one.
- Go spend some time with lonely people at an assisted living facility or old age home or hospital. Offer to read a story or play a game of checkers with someone who doesn't have any visitors.
- Feed the birds-- just remember that once you start feeding them, you should keep it up throughout the winter. If they grow accustomed to a food source, they'll depend on it.
- Make some muffins and bring a basket to the local fire department, police department or a local charity where hard-working volunteers will much appreciate the thought.
Don't forget to get outdoors if you can-- don't just trudge through the winter feeling grumpy about the slush and the cold. Let the inner child in you play-- go ice skating, ski, have a snowball fight, make a snow angel, or -- if you don't live where it's snowy -- go for a nature walk and observe what nature is like for you at this time of year. If you live where there are a lot of Christmas decorations, take a walk around and look at them, then treat yourself to a cup of hot cocoa.
Check Out the Pooka Pages
If kids are ever part of your Solstice celebrations, or if you're just one of those people who are young at heart, you might want to check out this wonderful website for Pagan children and families:
Let me say up front, I am in no way affiliated with the Pooka Pages-- just a long-time subscriber and parent who has enjoyed the website with my children so much. The Pooka Pages puts out a free magazine, with a new issue coming out for every Sabbat that contains recipes, magic, stories, coloring pages and more. This December's issue is one of favorites, ever. You can check out a PDF copy to read or print at:
Maybe it's just the 'crafty devil' inside me, but coloring takes me back to my childhood and makes me feel young again-- and I am printing out extra copies of those coloring pages for myself-- and can't wait to join the kids at the table tomorrow with a big box of Crayola!
The Ghost of Christmas Present
My Favorite Book to Read Every December:
It all ties into the same feelings for me.
Tell Stories or Read
Curling up with a good book is a given for me every Solstice, and I plan on re-reading my favorite book of all time again, like I do every year: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
I know, I know-- but you're Pagan? Why read a Christmas story? some of you may be asking yourselves. If you've ever read it, you'll notice it's not overtly religious. It's not about the birth of Jesus or salvation; Christmas is presented in a rather secular/spiritual way, and it's the season and the meaning behind it that it stands for. Christians are not the only ones who can get something meaningful out of the story. If you've never read it, I strongly urge you to give it a go. If you have a Kindle, I found it available on Amazon for free download.
There are many children's stories we love to read this time of year as well, like "A Visit to Mother Winter" from the Pagan parenting book Circle Round. There is also a delightful story by D.J. Conway in an old 1995 edition of Llewellyn's Magical Almanac called "The Yule Elves" that my daughter (who is in her 20's now, mind you) still pulls off the shelf and hands me. She then sits on the floor, wrapping her arms around her knees and looks up at me with her big, blue eyes to relive her childhood.
Thanks to the growth of Pagan families and a growing acceptance of alternative religions, more and more children's stories are coming out focused on our holidays. You'd be surprised at what's available that you could not find 10 years ago.
Watch Holiday Specials
Television watching is not something I would normally consider a particularly spiritual experience, but there's something special about holiday specials. They're something of a cathartic experience for me. Even as an adult, I'll still pull out shows like Frosty the Snowman and The Grinch who Stole Christmas, or the World War II Disney Christmas cartoon Good Will to Men, which always chokes me up.
For Pagan families, there is one holiday special that stands out in particular. My kids went nuts over it back in the 90's when they were little because it was the first holiday special that was actually about the Winter Solstice! If you had children in the 90's, you are probably familiar with the show The Big Comfy Couch. You can actually catch the entire episode "Comfy and Joy" on youtube.
Big Comfy Couch - A Very Pagan-ish Winter Solstice Episode
Gotta Do the Yule Log Cake
Baking, Decorating & Crafts
It may come down to the fact that baking and crafts were always part of the Winter holiday season, both when I was younger and raised by my Catholic mom to the point at which I moved out on my own and became Wiccan, till now-- with my own children celebrating the Solstice.
I don't know what I like best about holiday baking-- the scents coming from the oven, the cheerful look of baked goods piled high on the table, or nibbling on the treats. A lot of them end up in tins and are given as gifts.
For Solstice, we decorate our home by cutting out paper snowflakes and hanging them from threads from the ceiling and paper chains scalloped around the room. For the price of a stack of printer paper, the house looks like a winter wonderland. Some white icicle lights enhance the mood, and of course we put up a Yule tree. It's a small tree that stands proudly on a coffee table.
Except for lights, we make all the ornaments for the tree. We use cookie cutters on air-dry clay for ornaments, which we then paint. We've got dried orange and lemon slices-- which are so pretty and translucent they remind me of little suns. One of my favorite set of ornaments is one we made out of pine cones from the park-- we tipped the edges of the shingles with white glitter glue on some; others we spray painted silver and gold.
Don't Forget the Music
One particular craft I do every year is a Sun candle. The idea was introduced in Scott Cunningham's book Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner but it became a tradition. Since I don't have a fireplace to burn a Yule log, I use a Sun candle instead.
I get a pillar candle in a solar color-- usually yellow-- and I paint it with solar symbols. I put it in the cauldron, a symbol of the womb. I anoint it with oils like cinnamon and clove, dedicate it and I light it on the Winter Solstice. Then I burn it at every Sabbat on the altar.
By Samhain, it's about spent. I burn it for a while and blow it out to symbolize the death of the Sun God. I bury the remnants of the wax. Then the cycle starts over again with a new Sun candle for Yule.
Stay Up All Night
On Solstice night, I like to stay up all night. After the merriment and feasting are over, after we've baked cookies and told stories and tucked the children into sleeping bags (they like to camp out under the Yule Tree), it's more serious spiritual time for me. I like to think of it as keeping vigil as the Mother Goddess labors through the night.
I perform a Yule ritual-- sometimes as a solitary, sometimes with guests if other adult Pagans spending the night.
Often I'll do some divination-- usually a Tarot reading-- to see what might be in store for the New Year.
I spend a lot of time in meditation on Solstice night. This meditation usually includes a visit to my own 'inner sacred temple' where I meet with the Mother and talk with her about the future, my personal growth, my goals and what direction I might take.
Some of that time is spent in mindful awareness of the moment. If possible, I'll do this outdoors and open my senses to the magic of the night. I let the peace and hopefulness of the Solstice just sink in and fill me, gazing at the stars and the moon, waiting for that sacred birth.
Watch the Sun Rise
Finish off your Solstice with a grand finale-- go out and watch the first sunrise of the Solstice. Let the light wash over you. If you feel moved to do so, give a cheer. Then come home, have a filling breakfast and go to sleep, dreaming of the promise that the future holds.
Blessed Solstice to all!