Into the throes of winter we go with today's solstice. It's the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, and the sun has officially reached its southernmost point as seen from Earth. Here in NYC we're expected to get around nine hours of sunlight today, but regions farther north will see as little as three or four.
The extra darkness is a chance to light a few candles and snuggle up with a good book, to be sure, but it also carries a more spiritual meaning.
Instead of letting the darkness bum them out, many cultures use it as an opportunity to slow down, reflect, and celebrate the increasing sunlight to follow. Persians refer to the occasion as Yaldā Night, and it's a time for families to gather over pomegranates and watermelons that symbolize an active, joyous winter. In China, the Dongzhi Festival embraces the darkness with one last feast of the year. And one of the most well-known winter solstice celebration is Yule, the pagan tradition of welcoming the sunrise with gratitude. Many pagans, and non-pagans too, will gather today at Stonehenge (the ancient structure is actually thought to have been built to honor the winter and summer solstices) to reflect, release, and celebrate the sun's return.
Here is a small ritual to conduct tonight to revel in the solstice's storied symbolism.