Today the sun appears to reach its still point. The earth’s year-long cycle of axial tilt pauses in the dark of the Northern hemisphere. (For those living south of the Equator, today brings the longest day of light before the pivot.) The word solstice comes from the Latin word “sol” and “sistere,” meaning “sun stands still.” When seen from earth, the sun indeed appears to pause and reverse its direction in the sky on this day.
It is as if our solar system breathes in for six months. Then on December 21st, it pauses before it exhales. We have an opportunity, tonight, to be in this still point, to experience the pause, to make space for the darkness.
The ancients believed that on this day the old sun died. The next sunrise brought forth the birth of a new sun. Our ancestors’ daily lives, woven into nature and the pulsing of the seasons, celebrated the return of light and the rebirth of the sun with communal celebrations. They leaned into the dark. They had no choice, no artificial lights and screens to take them away from this deeply nocturnal experience.
How can we lean into the dark?
Rest. Take your cue from nature. The shortening days signal to our bodies to rest and restore. In winter, life energy moves underground. Seeds beneath the soil gather energy for later germination. If you want to grow something new in your life, you have to take time for rest and nurturing. The short days and long nights of winter offer ample time for regeneration—provided we turn off our distractions and let ourselves enter the stillness.
Be in community. Gather friends around a fire. Here I borrow from the ancients who sang songs and told stories on this night. To this end, my family hosts an annual party complete with a holiday ale tasting. Luminaria, those lovely paper lanterns from New Mexico, light our driveway. A fire burns at our hearth. Our Winter Solstice shindig is my antidote to the dark.
Reflect. The still point is a place where light and dark meet. Think of it as a doorway. We walk through to a new season: winter. We cross a threshold into ever lengthening days that stretch into sunlight and the promise of summer’s bounty. At the pivot point, ask yourself: what do I want to take with me? What has served me well? What should I pack in my bag? What can I leave behind with autumn’s dying leaves?
Whether we know it or not, our lives and our bodies are conversing with this seasonal dance of light and the dark. Are you listening? Will you lean into the dark?
Meg B Holden lives and writes in Portland, Oregon