Winter Solstice

I got back this morning from an overnight trip.  I went to Canada for a Winter Solstice celebration, and spent the night at a friend’s house about halfway home.  I just sat here for a while, looking out at the sun on the new snow, glittering in the ice on the trees, enjoying the fire and Bella, and just feeling happy.  REALLY happy.

I think the Solstice celebration last night filled needs so deep I hadn’t been aware of them.  A need to celebrate together with a bunch of like-minded folks, a need to gather outside in a place made sacred by stone and fire and the sun’s path, made sacred by our celebration and reverence for the Earth, and the Sun, and by our calling of the four directions.

We processed into the Stone Circle at Stanstead by a path that entered between two torches, and went past twelve small fires, one for each month of the year.

We entered the Stone Circle by a trilithon — a “three stone” arch like the ones at Stonehenge — and walked on to create a big circle of people within the circle of stones.  Two of our group went to each of the Four Directions, called the Spirits — in English and in French — and lit a torch in front of the stone to the East, then the South, followed by West and North.  Kim explained to us that the fire should contain something left from the Yule log of last year, but there wasn’t a log, so greenery from last year’s wreath was on the fire.  She lit the fire which blazed up nicely. Sylvie translated everything into French.  Then we were each given a pine cone and stood holding it, thinking of the past year, the successes and the challenges, and what we wanted to leave behind.  Standing there in the crisp snow, fingers and toes freezing, facing the blazing fire, seeing the big stones and the torches, and beyond us white and black fields and trees fading in the dusk.  Beyond our circle and the stones, I could sense circle after circle of our ancestors, who had come together for millennia to celebrate the shortest day and the rebirth of the light.  Standing there in the cold, we put what we wanted to leave behind into the pinecones and threw them into the fire.  The sodium vapor lights of the town around us were the same color as our torches.


As we left the circle we carried the energy within us to the place of feasting and dance.  A short drive, and a long climb up three flights of stairs, brought us to the Chapel in the Manoir Stanstead.  The Manoir, which used to be a boarding school and monastery, is now a residence for retired seniors.  The chapel had been renovated to make a great space for dancing, and a table at the end was loaded with food.  We did many dances — to celebrate the dark, to celebrate the light, to celebrate our gathering, and as prayers for Peace in the world.  On this border between the north and the south, America and Canada, English and French, we dance to celebrate our differences, not fight about them.

I was reminded several times of the lines in Susan Cooper’s poem which I dearly love:
“And everywhere down the centuries
of the snow white world
Came people singing, dancing,
to drive the dark away….
All across the ages you can hear them, echoing, behind us,
listen —
As promise wakens in the sleeping land
They carol, feast, give thanks
and dearly love their friends,
and hope for peace.”

The whole poem was read to us in both English and French. My cup overflowed.

The Shortest Day
written for the Christmas Revels by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came
and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries
of the snow white world
Came people singing, dancing,
to drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees
They hung their homes with evergreens
They burned beseeching fires all night long
to keep the year alive.
And when the new day’s sunshine blazed awake
they shouted “Reveille!”
And all across the ages you can hear them, echoing, behind us,
listen —
All the long echoes sing the same delight
this shortest day.
As promise wakens in the sleeping land
They carol, feast, give thanks
and dearly love their friends,
and hope for peace.
So do we here now, this year, and every year
Welcome Yule!

Yule is an ancient Germanic celebration of the winter solstice that has given us many of our Christmas customs.

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3 Responses to Winter Solstice

  1. Bobbi Bailin says:

    How Lovely.
    and the light returns with new hope

  2. judy carpenter says:

    I wanted to get to Stanstead for the solstice celebration but couldn’t. Thanks so much for sharing the beauty. Peace in the New Year for all beings! Judy

  3. Jan says:

    I appreciate you sharing the essence of Solstice you found at Stanstead. Hope to go there with you in the Spring. My cup overflows from your sharing Susan Cooper’s poem in its entire. Delighted to hear of your shared feeling of happiness!!!

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