After A Year Like This, You Need To Celebrate The Winter Solstice

Photo: Getty Images.
The winter solstice, also known as the shortest day and longest night in the year, will occur this Wednesday, December 21, when the East Coast will see only nine hours and 15 minutes of daylight. But don't bust out the electric blanket and make unbreakable plans with your Netflix account just yet. This is actually a very spiritually significant day, according to nature-based faiths.

The winter solstice, sometimes celebrated as Yule in Pagan and Wiccan traditions, marks the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Even though it's one of the oldest holiday celebrations, the rituals around it have remained the same: Spend time with your family, observe the changes in nature, and reflect on what's happened in the past year (and what a year it's been).

Seeress and shaman Deborah Hanekamp of Mama Medicine tells Refinery29 that this is the time of year that "nature itself is inviting us to really accept ourselves, so we can grow and cleanse and prepare for personal growth." Think of the winter solstice as a chance to make a New Year's resolution without the (arguably self-imposed) high stakes of an actual New Year's resolution. You can even use it as an opportunity to perform an early cleansing ritual.

We spoke more with Hanekamp about the best ways to celebrate the solstice, even if you've never given it a try yourself. This year just might be the right time to start a personal solstice practice.

Click through to find the solstice celebration that's right for you.

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Photographed by Nina Westervelt.
Let light in.
Since the winter solstice falls on the shortest day of the year, one of the most common (and simplest) ways to observe the spiritual significance of this day is to make the most of the light you've got. Hanekamp recommends letting plenty of natural light into your home during the day, then turning to candles once the sun goes down.

She adds that, if you must use artificial light (as many of us do), bring other elements of nature into your home, instead: "The evergreen tree, the tree that’s constantly giving life, is also a part of winter solstice rituals. For us in modern times, if you are celebrating a holiday like Christmas, the winter solstice is a good time to get that tree and then actually put the lights on it."
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Log off.
"Try not to be overly digitized that day," Hanekamp says. You could go completely offline, or, if you can't swing a totally screen-free day, she says you could do something as simple as taking a break from TV. This is a day for personal growth above all else — try to avoid anything that might distract you (and we know how distracting our phones with wicked-fast wi-fi setups can be).
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Photographed by Aaron Richter.
Take a break from booze.
We're in the midst of what Hanekamp calls "hangover season." If you've been hopping from holiday party to holiday party, this is a great time to abstain — even for just the one day: "If there’s any day of the month to just stay sober and stay clear within yourself, the winter solstice is the best day to do that."

Just like going offline, staying sober on the solstice can help you stay tuned into yourself. This will make reflection much easier.
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Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
Get together.
Gathering for a group meal is a ritual as old as time — and Hanekamp says it's become a stand-by for the cleansing opportunities it presents. Invite your loved ones into your home and encourage them to discuss any changes they experienced in the past year. "By sharing together in a group, a lot is cleared within the collective consciousness," she explains.

And, if you're all about seasonal decor, this is your time to shine. Ask your guests to bring something they find in nature, and use everyone's contributions to build an altar. Hanekamp recommends white pine in particular and adds that water should always appear somewhere in an altar.
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Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
Illuminate your "shadow self."
This is what your solstice celebration should build up to. Free of distractions and surrounded by friends and nature, you can now reflect on your whole self — even the parts that you keep hidden from others. Hanekamp calls those aspects of your personality your "shadow self."

"It’s the side of yourself you only show when you’re alone," she explains. Maybe you conceal a fear, desire, or source of shame from other people. No matter what dwells within your shadow self, bring it to light by journaling or opening up to your loved ones.

Only when you consider yourself without judgment will you know how to prepare for the coming season — and year. Hanekamp says to ask yourself, "What are you ready to let go of and leave behind, to essentially let die or leave in the dark? Are there parts of your hidden self that need to be given a voice?" These are the kinds of questions that can lead to truly positive changes in your life.

If you spend this day seeking warmth from your loved ones and light from nature, you will illuminate — and, ultimately, accept — the whole person you've become since the last winter solstice.