Winter Solstice Rituals You Can Do This December [2023]

Want to know how to celebrate the Winter Solstice? We have everything you need to know right here!

winter solstice sun

Main image courtesy of Blue Gables Farm.

As the wheel of the year turns and we get into the months of November and December, we’re reminded that the current year is about to come to a close. It’s a time of reflection to hold space and remember all things we accomplished in the previous months—and everything we have planned in the coming year. In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s deep winter and it can be cold and sparse, as nature is taking this time to rest before bursting forth in spring again.

It’s also the time of the year when the sun is the furthest from the Earth, and the daylight hours are short. Many cultures take this time to celebrate the shortest day of the year, usually around December 21, which we know as the Winter Solstice. 

What are some ways you can celebrate the season and the gradual return of more light? Glad you asked, because in today’s article we’re covering:

  • What the Winter Solstice is and why it’s celebrated
  • Winter Solstice rituals
  • Ways to decorate your space for celebration

What is the Winter Solstice (and why do we celebrate it?)

Learn why many cultures take the time to celebrate the start of winter

winter forest with sun and trees
The Winter Solstice is the time of year to reflect, go inward, and then welcome the return of light. Image courtesy of Wootton Park Wellness.

When you think of the holiday season in December, chances are your mind first thinks of Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, or Kwanzaa, but did you know there’s another holiday to celebrate? It’s the Winter Solstice, and celebrations like Yule and Christmas are specifically derived from this time of year—which is also the start of winter. Even though it can be cold in November and early December, the season of winter doesn’t technically start until December 21, which is usually the day of the Winter Solstice.

Today we know that the Winter Solstice is the time of year where the sun is at its lowest point in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere (and at its highest in the Southern Hemisphere), which means the least amount of daylight and the largest amount of darkness. This is the true start of winter, which will last until the Spring Equinox in March.

Cultures around the world have celebrated this event for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, as it marks the return or rebirth of the sun. Each day after the solstice means that there’s a little more daylight, until both night and day are equal at the Spring Equinox. 

The rebirth of the sun was something to celebrate, and it was a time for feasting in a variety of cultures. We still see today how our ancestors were aware of the changes in sunlight by some of the monuments they left that are illuminated at precisely this time of year including:

  • Stonehenge
  • Newgrange
  • Chaco Canyon (New Mexico)

Tracking the seasons was essential to agricultural people of the past, as it determined when to plant and harvest crops. The Winter Solstice gives us the opportunity to feel more connected to our ancestors, no matter where we’re from. You’ll find Winter Solstice celebrations in a variety of cultures like:

  • Scandinavia
  • China
  • Great Britain
  • Ireland
  • Iran
  • Native American 

Winter Solstice rituals anyone can do

How can you celebrate the Winter Solstice this year?

winter solstice wreath with candles
Winter Solstice rituals are a great way to feel more connected to the change in seasons, as well as our ancestors. Image courtesy of Crescent Ridge Farm.

Celebrating the Winter Solstice is becoming more popular these days, and one of the major reasons why is because anyone can join in. We’re all on this Earth together, and we can all celebrate the return of the sun, enjoy time spent with loved ones, and reflect on how we’ve grown over the past year. Although you can have a religious or spiritual element to your festivities, you don’t have to! Your celebrations can simply be how you recognize that the old year is ending, and a new one is just beginning. 

A lot of the rituals we’ll be discussing have their roots in the Scandinavian and Germanic customs of Yule, which eventually spread to the British Isles and were Christianized into our familiar Christmas traditions. The great thing about the Winter Solstice rituals is you can take what resonates with you—and you can leave what doesn’t! Personalized celebrations are the best, because they’re full of intention.

Celebrate both the light and dark, yin and yang, outer and inner, reflection and action that are present in all of us with these following rituals for the Winter Solstice!

  1. Decorate trees (both inside your home and out)

One of the best ways to celebrate the Winter Solstice is by bringing a little bit of nature into your home. You can do this with a real or artificial tree, it’s really all about the intention. Decorate your tree with ornaments that mean something to you, or symbolize something special. 

You can also create natural ornaments too! Try stringing popcorn or dried cranberries for an alternative way to decorate. Dry out orange slices and string them together for a bright, and wonderfully scented, tree decoration.

Don’t forget about outdoor trees! Winter means there’s less access to a lot of the food critters like birds, squirrels, and deer eat, so why not create some animal-friendly treats? This is easy to do with apples or pinecones. Simply tie a bit of twine to one of these, coat in peanut butter and roll in seeds. Then hang on a tree and watch the animals enjoy! You can also string fresh cranberries together to string on your outside tree as well. 

  1. Set intentions and let go of what you want to release

During the darkness of winter, we have time to reflect and release. When we do this, we can make room for new intentions that we want to manifest in the coming year. Write down what you want to let go of, whether it’s a habit, a way of thinking, or something else. Then throw your scraps of paper into a fire and watch them disappear. You can now set intentions or goals you want to work on in the next year. You can say these out loud or write them in your journal.

light strings illuminating a room
Bring more light to your space and enjoy this time of going inward. Image courtesy of The Spruce
  1. Add lights

Because it gets dark earlier in the lead up to the Winter Solstice, as well as after, having additional lighting is key. String lights in your space so that it feels cozy, warm, and inviting. Even though it may be dark outside, you’ll feel comfortable inside your space when it’s lit up with extra lights. Use this opportunity to be thankful for this restful time of year. Nature rests, so why can’t we!

You can also add more candles so your home smells wonderful. Think of seasonal scents like pine, berries, cloves, or cinnamon. 

  1. Create a Winter Solstice feast

Feasting is one of the major ways our ancestors celebrated the Winter Solstice, so why not carry on the tradition? You can use ingredients that are in season where you are, or concentrate your feast on traditional food and drink. Gather your friends and family members and have them over to enjoy as well. Some popular Winter Solstice menu items include:

  • Mulled wine
  • Roasted root vegetables
  • Beef stew
  • Pumpkin/squash soup
  • Citrus fruit salad
  • Bread
  1. Do a Winter Solstice craft

Instead of worrying about overspending on Christmas gifts, why not make either a homemade craft for your home, or to give to others? There’s so much unnecessary stress during December when it comes to gift giving. But your Winter Solstice celebration doesn’t need any of that! Decorate a small (or large!) wreath with your own DIY supplies and hang it on your door, or give it to someone else. You can find all kinds of beautiful items at a local craft store to add to your wreath, or go out and find real pine cones. 

Another great craft that will have your home smelling amazing are oranges and cloves. You can use a zester to etch designs into the orange’s skin, then stick whole cloves around it. Place in a bowl or hang up!

  1. Enjoy spending time with loved ones

At the close of the year, we’re always more cognizant of endings, and how brief our time is here. Winter Solstice is a time to gather with those you love and spend time with them. Whether that’s at your Winter Solstice feast, meeting for a coffee, or going for a walk together, realize that each moment is precious.

Those are our favorite Winter Solstice Rituals, what are yours?

Try out some of these Winter Solstice celebrations this year, and see what really resonates with you. You can do one, or try out a bunch, the point is your making space for this special time of year. 

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