Family Winter Solstice Ritual

Family Winter Solstice Ritual December 29, 2011

For those of you following this blog, you may have noticed that my family never manages to celebrate the Wheel of the Year on the actual solar date (in the case of the solstices and equinoxes) or the traditional dates (in the case of the cross-quarter day).  The reason for this is largely practical.  First of all, we always wait until the weekends, because it is easier to get everyone together.  Second, due to vacations and other intervening events, it is frequently necessary to delay the celebration for a week or even two.

Finally, I prefer to celebrate the cross-quarter days on or near the mid-way points between the solstices and equinoxes, rather than on the traditional dates.  This doesn’t change much for Brigid/Imbolc (which I call “Midwinter”), as it is only a one day difference.  But by All-Hallows/Samhain (which  I call “Mid-Autumn”), the difference is a week.

In any case, the bottom line is that we are celebrating the Winter Solstice this weekend, which is also New Year’s.  That works out well for us, because our Winter Solstice celebration definitely has a New Year’s feel to it.

This will be a little more special celebration than usual, because it is the first ritual we are repeating.  I started family rituals a year ago last autumn equinox.  We then skipped the All Hallows ritual and started in earnest with the Winter Solstice.  This past autumn equinox, I wrote a new ritual, so this will be the first year we repeat a ritual.  That makes this celebration the beginning of a “tradition”.  Since I left the Mormon church, I have been quite ambivalent about tradition.  And when I began self-identifying as Pagan, it was always as a non-traditional, eclectic variety.  I just recently saw this joke on Star Foster’s blog at Patheos:

Are you angry, disturbed, and offended by that spontaneous eclectic Pagan ritual? …

Don’t worry. They won’t do it again!

I love it.   But having young kids, I increasingly appreciate the need for routines and rituals (in the sense of repetitious action).

So here is our ritual outline.  Since I was not blogging last year, this is the first time this has been posted:

Winter Solstice Celebration

Prelude: “Solstice Prayer” chant by Thorn Coyle

We wait in the dark for the light to appear,
Mother, give birth to our brother the Sun.
We wait in the dark for the light to appear,
Mother, give birth to our brother the Sun!
We wait. We watch.
Out of the cold comes the promise of newness.
We wait. We watch.
Out of the cold comes the promise of day!


I enter dressed as the Holly King and narrate the following:

I am the Holly King, King of Winter, the dark time of the year, Lord of the Underworld.  I am the dark twin of my brother, the Oak King, the King of the Summerlands, the Lord of Light.  I am the wolf and he is the stag.  I am the dark to his light.

I have come to teach you about the Wheel of the Year.  The Wheel of the Year has eight special days, spread evenly apart.

The winter solstice is the longest night of the year.  Pagans today call this time by its ancient Anglo-Saxon name, Yule.  Yule is the night when I am the strongest.  But it is also the time when I slowly begin to grow weak again, as the Sun slowly returns from land of darkness.  This is night that the Child of Promise is born from the dark womb of the Goddess.  The Child of Promise is the new sun, which is small and weak at this time of the year, but will grow stronger and stronger until he defeats me in the springtime.  This is a time for celebrating new beginnings.

Christmas is also celebrated at this time of the year by Christians.  It is when they celebrate the birth of Jesus.  We have learned from scholars that Jesus was actually born in the Springtime.  But around the year 350 AD, the Christian church changed the date to be on the same date as the pagan celebration, Dies Natali Solis Invicti, which means the birthday of the conquering sun, which was celebrated at the winter solstice.  Pagans believe that Jesus was an example of the Child of Promise, who was born at the winter solstice and grows up to defeat the powers of darkness, but is later killed and reborn.  Pagans believe that this happened not just one time long ago, but happens every year, in nature.  It also can happen many times within us, in our souls.

“Winter Solstice Chant” by Phillip Palmer (UU Hymn 1063)

Child – ren of the Earth, _____
we have come to sing to each oth – er,
Sist – er to Broth – er,
songs of our Moth – er Earth.

Children of the Earth _____
Autumn soon will breathe her last breath and
quick will hear death bear
witness to Winter’s Birth.

Children of the Earth _____
can you feel the air getting cold as
darkness takes hold and
sleep covers Mother Earth?

Children of the Earth _____
we have come to sit in the dakrness,
breathe in the silence,
think of our Mother Earth.

Story: “The Rebirth of the Sun” by Starhawk (narrated by my wife)

Circle round, and I’ll tell you a story about when the sun was born again …
It was the middle of winter, and the sun had grown very old.
All year long the sun had worked very hard, rising and setting day after day. All year long the sun had fed everybody on earth, shining and shining, giving energy to the trees and the flowers and the grasses so they could grow and feed the animals and birds and insects and people.
All year the sun’s gravity held tight to the spinning ball of the earth and the twirling ball of the moon and the eight other whirling planets as they traveled around and around and around, until the poor sun was dizzy watching it all.
Now the poor tired sun could barely make it up in the morning, and after a very short time, needed to sleep again. So the days grew shorter, and the nights grew longer, until the day was so short it was hardly worth getting up for.
Mother Night felt sorry for the sun.

[My daughter reads:] “Come to my arms and rest, child.  After all, I am your mother. You were born out of my darkness, billions of years ago, and you will return to me when all things end. Let me cradle you now, as I shelter every galaxy and star in the universe.”

So Mother Night wrapped her great arms around the sun, and the night was very long indeed.
“Why does the dark go on so long?” asked children all over the earth. “Won’t the sun ever come back again?”
“The sun is very tired,” the old ones said. “But maybe, if you children say thank you for all the things the sun does for us, the light may return in the morning.”
The children sang songs to the sun. They thought about all the things the sun gave them.

[My wife asks the kids what they think the children might have thanked the sun for, then resumes the story.]

“Thank you for growing the lettuces and the corn and the rice and the wheat,” they said. “Thank you for growing the trees of the forests and the seaweed in the oceans and the krill that feeds the whales. Thank you for stirring the air and making winds that bring the rain.”
Every time a child said thank you, the sun began to feel a little warmer, a little brighter. Wrapped safely in the arms of Night, the sun grew younger and younger.
At last the children had to go to bed. “We will stay up and wait for the sun to rise again” the old ones said.
“Can’t we stay up, too?” the children asked.
“You can try, but you will get too sleepy,” the old ones said. “But you can each light a candle, because all fire is a spark of the sun’s fire. Put your candle in a very safe place, and let it keep vigil for you as you sleep and dream of sunrise.”
So the children lit their candles and put them in very safe places, and each flame was a little spark of the sun’s fire.

[My wife lights a candle.]

And the sun peeped out from between the arms of Night, and saw all the little fires, and began to feel warmer and brighter and younger still.
Early in the morning, the old ones woke the children. Together they climbed a high hill and faced to the east, the direction of sunrise. They sang songs to the sun and ran around trying to keep warm. They waited and waited to see what dawn would bring.
The sky began to turn from black to indigo to blue. Slowly the sky grew light. A golden glow crept over the horizon. Night opened her great arms, and in a burst of brightness, the sun appeared, new and strong and shining.
For in the long night the sun had rested well and grown young from the songs and the thanks of the children, young as a brand-new baby, born out of Night once more.
Everybody cheered, and the children jumped up and down.
“The sun has returned! The sun is reborn!” the people cried. And they danced and sang to celebrate the birth of a new day, and then went home to breakfast.

Chant of Mother Night and the Sun Child (by my daughter and son who are dressed for the parts)

Mother Night:    Come to me body of grain
                                 Come to me soul of the light
                                 Come to me and rest your head
                                 I will give to you new life

Sun Child:        Into the depths of the well
                             Beyond the shadows of time
                            I surrender my sorrows
                           I am reborn into the light

Mother Night:    Come to me body of grain

Sun Child:        Into the depths of the well

Mother Night:    Come to me soul of the light

Sun Child:        Beyond the shadows of time

Mother Night:    Come to me and rest your head

Sun Child:        I surrender my sorrows

Mother Night:    I will give to you new life

Sun Child:        I am reborn into the light

Brief Homily on Darkness (by me)

The winter solstice happens in nature around us.  But it also happens inside of us, in our souls.  It can happen inside of us is summer or winter, spring or fall.   In the dark place of our soul, we carry secret wishes, pains, frustrations, loneliness, fears, regrets, worries.  Darkness is not something to be afraid of.  Sometimes we go to the dark place of our soul, where we can find safety and comfort.  In the the dark place in our soul we can find rest and rejuvenation.  In the dark place of our soul we can find balance.  And when we have rested, and been comforted, and restored, we can return from the dark place in our soul to the world of light and new possibilities.

Responsive Reading: “Reflections on the Resurgence of Joy” litany by Dori Jeanine Somers (UU Reading 653) [by me]

How short the daylight hours have now become.  How grey the skies, how barren seem the trees.

A damp and chilling wind has gripped my mind and made me gloomy, too.

But there is that in me which reaches up toward the light and laughter, bells, and carolers,

And knows that my religious myth and dream of reborn joy and goodness must be true,

Because it speaks the truths of older myths;

That light returns to balance darkness, life surges in the evergreen – and us,

As babes are hope, and saviors of the world, as miracles abound in common things.

Rejoice!  And join in the gladness of the season.


We write new year wishes on paper lanterns.  We then go outside and gather around the unlit campfire in dark.

We have a brief silent meditation on darkness:

Now we will have a brief silent meditation.  Think about the darkness.  Think about the silence.  Think about how everything begins in the darkness.  Think about how in the darkness there is always a spark of light.

We then light candles.

Song: “Pagan Silent Night” (UU Hymn 251) adapted by Ellen Reed

Si – lent night, Sol – stice Night
All is calm, gone is light
Na- ture slum – bers in for – est and glen
Till in Spring – time She wakens a – gain
Sleep – ing spir – its grow strong!
Sleep – ing spir – its grow strong!

Si – lent night, Sol – stice Night
Sil – ver moon shin – ing bright
Snow – fall blank – ets the slum – ber – ing Earth
Yule fires wel – come the Sun’s re – birth
Hark, the Light is re – born!
Hark, the Light is re – born!

Si – lent night, Sol – stice Night
Qui – et rest till the Light
Turn – ing ev – er the roll – ing Wheel
Brings the win – ter to com – fort and heal
Rest your spir – it in peace!
Rest your spir – it in peace!

Activity (continued)

We light and release the flying paper lanterns.  We then light the bonfire.  We then circle round the campfire.

Song: “Pagan Joy to the World” (UU Hymn 245) (adapted)

Joy to the world! The Lord is come!
Let Earth re- ceive her king!
Let e – very heart pre – pare them room
And Heaven and Na – ture sing,
And Heaven and Na – ture sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and Na – ture sing.

Wel – come our King who brings us life.
Our La- dy gives him birth!
His liv – ing light warms the seeds,
And wakes the sleep – ing earth,
And wakes the sleep – ing earth,
And wakes, and wakes the sleep – ing earth.

We light the fire to greet the Son,
Our Light! Our Life! Our King!
Let e – very voice sing his praise,
As Heaven and Na – ture sing,
As Heaven and Na – ture sing,
As Heaven, as Heaven and Na – ture sing.

Litany: “The Light is Reborn”

We each take turns reading a line of the “call”.  Everyone responds to the call with the line is “The light is reborn.”

When the earth is barren.
The light is reborn.
When the animals sleep.
The light is reborn.
When the leaves have all fallen.
The light is reborn.
When the rivers are frozen.
The light is reborn.
When the ground is hard.
The light is reborn.
When the shadows grow long.
The light is reborn.
When warmth has fled.
The light is reborn.
In the darkest night.
The light is reborn.

We the go inside for hot chocolate.

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