You Can Create Your Own Spiritual Traditions
Growing up, I never gave a second thought about the Winter Solstice. It was something that happened on the journey to Christmas. The extent of my “paying homage” to the solstice was wondering – and never actually trying – if I could balance an egg on one end.
As I’ve gotten older and more spiritual though, the element of ritual is still important to me. Perhaps it’s a throwback to my upbringing with countless days sitting in shellacked wooden pews attending highly prescribed Catholic Mass every Sunday and sometimes more often than that.
Perhaps it’s a desire to connect with myself and my own longing for a sense of tradition that I create with loved ones and friends.
But this time of year has become symbolic to me for so many reasons.
It’s more than just spending time with family. With the number of holidays that fall around this time of year…I realized that they’re all connected.
They are connected around the idea of Light.
This day, only a week before Christmas, actually starts a tradition of celebrating in my own family. It’s my husband’s birthday.
This is the first year I’ve done this, but we’re celebrating a birthday week. It started the night before with a candlelight dinner and a favorite TV series on Netflix.
Sunday was a rainy (but we were prepared for that!) walk around Lake Junaluska, a reservoir about 2.5 miles the whole way around.
This followed with dinner with J’s family.
Monday heralded another present: a t-shirt I knew he’d love. Tuesday were two other little presents: a hand salve from Burt’s Bees and some kitchen gadgets. I continued to give these little gifts through Saturday.
“Why are you doing this? I’ve never been so spoiled,” J asked me.
I just said that I’m starting a new tradition and honoring him with 7 days of celebrating going around the sun for another year.
I suppose it’s a way to set off winter’s entry with a sense of celebration, as opposed to foreboding.
I say that because if I don’t mind my thoughts, I tend to think of winter only as a means of tolerance so that I can enjoy the other three seasons.
But I’m consciously changing those presumptive sentiments. I’m welcoming winter differently this year.
And well, this isn’t a specific holiday related to light, but husby’s birthday kicks off a series of celebrations that come right after.
The Solstice is the harbinger of winter.
It’s technically the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.
For our Southern Hemisphere-dwelling folks, it’s the longest day of the year for them.
Interestingly, it’s not the actual day that is considered the solstice, but it’s the moment the Sun is above the Tropic of Capricorn and farthest from the equator.
The word solstice is derived from the Latin words for “sol” – light, and “sistere” – to stand. The sun seemingly stands still in the sky at its zenith in the Tropic of Capricorn and then descends.
Culture after culture studied this phenomenon and built monuments to it: Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, Stonehenge, and Bighorn Medicine Wheel, to name just a few.
The Solstice moment for the United States began at 5:44am, Eastern Standard Time on December 21.
In wanting to celebrate winter, I’ve started creating a family ritual on this day: to mark the days getting longer, to use it as an opportunity to look within, and to symbolically embrace the cold days of winter knowing that I will emerge in the spring full of energy from the mellow days of percolation beforehand.
For the first part of this ritual, we celebrated with a hike. (Take a look at the video I posted on the Blue Ridge Parkway on Intuitive and Spiritual’s Facebook page.)
It was an after-work hike, together with our doggie, along the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway. We hiked until we could see the setting sun, and then headed back.
Upon arriving home, we continued the commemoration by creating our own solstice ceremony.
- Get all interested friends, family or just yourself for the ceremony.
- Gather necessary materials: candles and matches, a feather, sage, and sweetgrass (these last two items can be purchased at organic grocery stores or other places that sell Native American Indian items).
- Light one main candle. Turn out all electrical lights.
- If you’re by yourself, begin with a moment of gratitude. Become conscious of what you’re thankful for. You can say the top three things you’re thankful for out loud if you want. If you’re with friends, they do the same. Take a moment to offer up gratitude in silence, as well.
- Then, whether you’re by yourself or not, think of someone who is special to you. Send that person thoughts of gratitude. You can choose to say out loud your thoughts of gratitude toward that person or keep them to yourself.
- Think of the oncoming winter months. Reflect on how this is a time to turn within. Think about something you would like to work on for yourself. Be gentle and kind to yourself with these thoughts.
- Now, take the sage stick. Light it in the main candle. With a feather, waft the smoke of the sage around your body. While doing that, say aloud, “Sacred Sage, please banish all negative energy from this space. With the rising smoke, I send up my thoughts of gratitude.” Do the same if there are others in your group.
- Next, take the sweetgrass stick. Light it with the flame of the candle. With a feather, waft the smoke of the sweetgrass all around your body. Say aloud, “Sacred sweetgrass, please welcome all positive energy to this space. With the rising smoke, I send my intentions above.”
- Now, light all the candles in honor of the Solstice and of the positive energy you have created. Take some time in silence to center yourself, not speak, and reflect on your gratitude and intentions.
- When ready, hug yourself and/or the other members of your group. Continue about your regular activities, leaving the candles lit (and well attended).
This is another celebration – a festival of lights.
Beginning on December 24, those who celebrate this day begin lighting the menorah.
This day was one in which a Jewish struggle for religious freedom culminated with Maccabees (a Jewish army) who were able to rise up and triumph against Greek-Syrian rulers in 167 BCE.
For three years they fought and finally the Maccabees gained control of Jerusalem.
In celebration, Jewish folks went to “rededicate” (Hanukkah’s meaning) their temple. Only having enough sacred (kosher) oil for one night, it burned for eight nights, allowing people just enough time to create another batch of the sacred oil to light the hanukkiyah (menorah).
Each day, one candle on the hanukkiyah is lit, in honor of the eight days the oil lasted after the Maccabee uprising.
This celebration happens on December 24, 2016 and lasts until Jan. 1, 2017.
Adam Sandler has a great, comical Hanukkah song he created to let Jewish kiddos have another song to sing besides Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel and Christmas songs that they hear all around them:
Perhaps Christmas is a traditional holiday for you or your family. Perhaps you’re not Christian but still celebrate Christmas because…it seems like everyone at least acknowledges this holiday.
The time of year that Christmas is celebrated is interesting, though.
Before Christianity took hold, the Romans celebrated Saturnalia around the time of the Winter Solstice. They celebrated for days with lights and festivals – all around December 25.
It was post-harvest and the darkest part of winter.
The people just wanted some cheering up.
In AD 312, Constantine converted to Christianity. Some say it was to alleviate persecution of early Christians, but others say he was pressured to do so to help stop the fighting between Christians and Pagans.
Even so, now with the Roman Empire officially recognizing the major religion as Christianity, they continued to celebrate Saturnalia every year.
Add to that the idea of sol invicta, the Romans’ homage to the sun at the height of the Saturnalia celebrations. It was the “birthday of the unconquered sun.” This aligned with the idea of a “sun king.”
Historians believe that early celebrations of Christmas fell on invicta to replace the holiday. Efforts to use Saturnalia to do it did not work.
Now, celebrations of Christ the King happened on invicta.
But, it’s interesting to note that Christmas itself has ties to the sun, the solstice, and the idea of light.
So with that, celebrations in December each year echo the sentiments of celebrations over millennia. People celebrate on a broad scale, but individual families often have their own traditions.
Christmas Rituals and Traditions
Because we have parents and family who always invite us over, husby and I haven’t ever celebrated Christmas in our own house.
We have slightly different traditions, depending on whose family we’re visiting at that time of year.
J’s family begins on Christmas Eve, with everyone bringing a signature dish.
We visit with each other, talk about current events, share stories and more.
Christmas Day involves a large dinner in late afternoon, with simple present exchanges earlier in the day.
My own family opens presents on Christmas Eve, after enjoying Southwestern chili and some Christmas cookies called, “biscochitos.”
Christmas Day starts with brunch at a resort hotel where my mother used to work, and then a holiday movie…at the movie theater. I’ve always thought that a bit unusual, but it’s what my Mom likes to do, so we go with that.
I’m sure holiday traditions with family and friends abound. In fact, I’d love to know some of yours in the comments at the very bottom of the page.
But, J and I have our own traditions at our house before joining the rest of our family in celebration. They involve simple decorations that we put up on Dec. 23 and 24. We have a smudging ritual and I create poems on winter.
We also try to get out on a Christmas Eve hike with family and/or friends before meeting at parents’ houses.
Creating Our Own Christmas Rituals and Traditions
We like the idea of what Christmas represents: the idea that a man with a vision of love was born and tried to spread that message.
I always find it interesting that others with similar visions were born around that time, too – Buddha and Mohammed are the most notable ones.
All in all, it’s a celebration of light and love.
Because of the message of love, we have created a ritual that perpetuates that idea.
This can be done on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It’s up to you.
- Gather interested family and friends. (This can be done by yourself, as well.) They can bring Christmas or other poems that have resonated with them or that they have written.
- Gather materials: a house candle (this is a candle that you would use regularly for smudging; preferably one with scents of the season – if you’re not too sensitive), a sage stick, a sweetgrass stick, a cedar stick, a fire-proof plate or bowl, rose quartz, poems
- Gather in a circle and light the house candle.
- Say aloud: I take ten deep breaths to center myself and to look at the yellow flame before me, reflecting the light in my heart.
- Take ten deep breaths in silence.
- Say aloud: At this time of year, we take a moment to reflect on love. Think of ten people in your life – family, friends, coworkers, strangers – to whom you would like to send thoughts of love. You can say their names out loud and include more than ten if you’d like.
- Then, light the sage stick. Say aloud, “Sacred sage, please banish all negative energy from this space. We send thoughts of love to those we remember and to all those who need it.” Let the smoke from the sage waft through the air, but do not smudge yourself or others just yet. Place it back in the bowl.
- Pass the rose quartz through. This rock symbolizes love of all kinds: familial, relationship, camraderie, self-love and unconditional.
- Now, give the quartz to the first person who would like to read their poem. When that person is finished, he or she can pass it to the next person to read their poem.
- When everyone is finished, take the sage and re-light it. Say aloud, “Sacred sage, please cleanse our hearts, leaving only room for love.” Now, in silence, take the feather and go around and waft the smoke from the sage all over in front and back of everyone present. Return to the bowl.
- Next, take the sweetgrass and light it. Say aloud, “Sacred sweetgrass, please welcome all positive energy to this space. We send our thoughts of love, peace and harmony on this day.” In silence, take the feather again and go around to each person, wafting the smoke all over them in front and back. Return the sweetgrass to the bowl.
- Do the same with the cedar smudge stick while saying, “Sacred cedar, please welcome all thoughts of harmony and good health in this space. We send thoughts of healing to those who need it, and more thoughts of love,” and return it to the bowl.
- Say aloud, “Now, we take three deep breaths in silence, in honor of peace, love and harmony.”
- Now, blow out the candle and resume your activities. Folks can keep their poems or burn them in a fire to release their good energy.
A Winter Poem
The following poem is one I wrote and read for our Christmas ceremony.
While I know our Southern Hemisphere friends are experiencing summer just now, this poem will be relevant for them on the June solstice.
Queen Winter Cleanses Our Hearts
The harvest is reaped and Winter announces her cool presence.
She whooshes in with icy blue nails, dragging a dark shroud, the color of slate.
Winters’ days devoid of color, Winter whispers her reminders for all to hear:
Look within and take heed. I have removed the color and kept the light,
Though its bulb hangs in the sky only a short time.
I have removed distractions of brilliant leaves and multivaried flowers…
And the sun —
It provides only cooling heat, and enough brilliance to power long shadows.
This is a time to look within and take heed.
Understand your essence; feel the answers emerge within
To guide you on your life’s journey to the Spring.
This barren time is not a sentence to be carried out,
But a time to remember your why and your raison d’être.
Huddle with yourself, your love, your friends, creating a collective warmth
That bathes and cleanses your soul as only the fire from passionate hearts can do.
With a wave I provide you slicks of ice to hone your balance
And flakes of snow to appreciate exquisite natural design.
Look within and take heed.
Have you talked to Intuition lately? She’s whispering your name,
Asking you to get ready to plant roots.
The time is not yet right, but the mandatory inner-exploration
Is her perfectly-timed pre-requisite.
Has Intuition reminded you of the energy of gratitude?
I blow my sleet and rain and you, my friend, and now combat it with
A thankful flame.
Gather round in a circle, the one that is infinite…
With no beginning and no end, you now understand the cycle and circle
That everything has its time.
That precise moment of adding up to what is now
And plowing into the moments yet to come.
And don’t forget: Intuition will remind you.
So fear not, my friends. My chilled tendencies and clouded silence
Serve to forge you with icy-hot heat into the light and star you’re meant to be.
Tree of Life
After Christmas, I will be preparing a tradition I’ve started and stopped over the years, but now want to make a yearly tradition for my family: The Tree of Life.
In a nutshell, it is a tree of intentions that coincide with the the beginning of a new year.
Starting on Dec. 26, I will begin working on drawings and intentions for this tree and putting up this tree in my home. Publication for it will happen on Monday, Jan. 2 with explanations on how to do it.
Honestly, I think a New Year and New Year’s activities don’t always have to be on the exact day.
But, if you’d like to make one yourself, I will be posting updates on Intuitive and Spiritual’s Facebook page as I make progress.
I wish you all a wonderful holiday season. I’m also thinking of those who have lost loved ones and cannot celebrate with them. This time of year can be especially difficult for that and I hope this post can be a beacon of light.