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How to Celebrate the Winter Solstice in 2023: When It Is, What It Is, and Why It’s Important

Celebrated on December 21, the Winter Solstice is the astronomical first day of winter. Referred to as Midwinter, Yule, or Hibernating Solstice, this is the day of the year when the sun travels the shortest path in the sky. Due to Earth’s poles being at maximum tilt, this makes it the shortest day and the longest night of the year. The solstice is marked as the rebirth of the sun. Since the earliest of days, humans from the Germanic Pagans to the Celts have celebrated the return of the sun with reflection. 

Create an Edible Tree for Animals 

For animals that don’t hibernate or migrate for the winter, this time of year is difficult for them to find food. Birds, squirrels, and other small animals expend a lot of energy trying to scrounge up a meal from under the frozen ground. Consider making an edible Yule tree to feed animal neighbors throughout the winter. Pine cones covered in peanut butter and seeds make wonderful ornaments for a tree, or if you have pumpkins leftover from Thanksgiving use one to create a base for seeds and place it at the trunk of a tree. Garlands made from cranberries and popcorn can help decorate the tree while also providing a source of food for the critters. 

Donate, Trade, and Repair Gear 

Image by REI

An important component of the solstice is to release the old while preparing and being open to the new. This allows us to show our gratefulness for outdoor adventure, nature, and light. Do some Yuletide cleaning by going through old gear to donate to good causes including the Outside Gear Up, Give Back™ Program, Gear Forward, and Teens to Trails. REI has bins in the lobby to donate items including jackets and tents, or consider their trade-in program. Bigger brands including Patagonia have recycling, repair, and trade-in programs as well. Local buy-nothing pages or gear swaps with friends are great places to start. You can also consider having gear repaired before buying new for less impact on our planet. This is a perfect way to show gratitude during this time of renewal.

Feast Outdoors on the Winter Solstice 

With the return of more daylight, the pagans indulged in the Yule (feast) as a part of the oldest winter celebration. Indulge in hearty and warm fare taking advantage of seasonal ingredients from root vegetables and cranberries to nuts and soups. Wassail is a traditional (alcoholic) drink during the solstice. There are non-alcoholic versions available as well. Burning a Yule log is a traditional way to end the evening by releasing negative and old energy, wrongs, and hardships and opening hearts to positivity and light. 

Give Back to Nature

Image by Brian Yurasits

Show gratitude to the outdoor places you love by giving back to them. Sign up for a waterway or park clean up. Offer to help build and maintain trails throughout the year. 

If there aren’t many opportunities to help in the winter, set reminders to give back when the weather permits. 

Make Outdoors-Minded Intentions

You don’t have to wait until the new year to make positive changes or set intentions. In fact, the idea behind the solstice is reflection and improvement. Specific goals to be a more conscious outdoors enthusiast, as well as any outdoors related goals are great places to start. Write your ideas down for accountability and privacy. Or, say your intentions out loud and share them with others by candle light. Now, follow up with actionable steps each day until each goal is achieved. 

Participate in Your Favorite Outdoor Activity

Image by Elijah Hail

Since the solstice is about reflection, gratitude, and celebration, it offers the perfect opportunity for people to participate in their favorite winter activities. Whether you love the thrill of skiing or the peace and solitude of a snowy trail, spend the day enjoying time outdoors with the people you love the most. 

Practice Mindfulness 

Head outside to a quiet place to find some moments of peace. The Isht Sodhana Mantra “Dhartee Hai, Akasha Hai, Guru Ram Das Hai,” is a mantra you can repeat in honor of the winter solstice or sit in silence with it to calm the mind. Sun salutations and other yoga poses can also be grounding for the transition to winter. Here is a restorative flow to celebrate the day. 

Take in the Night Sky

Image by Alessandro Viaro

Since the solstice is the shortest day of light, the night sky can be observed for longer. Winter’s return means clearer skies for viewing of meteors, comets, planets, and constellations. The last meteor shower of the year, the Ursids will start its peak during the solstice. Mercury will also be the farthest distance from the sun on this night for good viewing. 

Walk in a Winter Wonderland

Create lanterns to light the darkest day of the year while you go for a solstice walk or hike. This night is also perfect to take in the holiday decor around your neighborhood. 

The Advent spiral walk is a traditional and meditative ritual to honor the light within everyone and the light we receive from the sun. It begins with a person walking a spiral and placing a single-lit candle in the center of the spiral. Each person continues to add their candle to the spiral until all the candles light the night. You can celebrate the day by going on your own advent walk or a winter hike and celebrate the return of light.

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