Setting Your Intentions for Winter Solstice

We haven’t always been a people rushing from one harried task to another.

We haven’t always been a people too busy to be present with each other. This is a modern ailment. It is my hope, in this article, to offer some healing balm for the wounds of modern life.

This article offers 6 ways you can attend to the upcoming Winter Solstice. This transition of the sun and season is powerful, and is your opportunity to address honestly where you are at and what is coming up for you in the new year.


We have always been a people paying attention to “time”. We’ve marked the movement of the stars and the moon and the sun. People who live close to the earth must know the timing of the seasons as it relates to our lives.

Where is the moon (knowing this tells us when to plant our seeds)?

Where is the sun in its yearly travels across the sky?

How much light is available in a day to grow plants? To hunt?

From this connected and ancestral place I speak of the winter solstice, the shortest day (or longest night) of the year. The long night, when our northern ancestors lit fires to coax the sun to return the path to longer days.

By building our small fires, we hoped to reflect back to the “big fire”, the sun, and our desire for its return. For people dependent on the longer summer days for growing and hunting, the sun’s return was of utmost importance for survival (uhmm…all of us are dependent on the sun’s return for survival). In our modern world, for some, the marking of the change of the solar year comes with the arbitrary moving of the clocks forward or backward.

Do you know where the sun rises on the winter solstice in your home landscape? How about on the spring equinox? How about each day – do you know that the place on the horizon where the sun rises and sets changes every day? No shame if you don’t, it’s just good to know what we do and don’t know.

This long night of the winter solstice marks the beginning of the solar return and the true new year.

The ancient celebration of the winter solstice predates the more modern religions celebrations such as Hanukkah or Christmas. It predates the “modern” calendar where January 1st is the somewhat arbitrary beginning of the year. The good news is that, for most people, the celebration of winter solstice doesn’t carry the baggage some carry around from the more modern celebrations.

So let’s start fresh with this ancient celebration. Here’s a list of things I do to honor the day.

Please remember, you don’t need to do every one of these to do it “right”. Take from the list what you can, or make your own. This is a gentle nudge to mark the passage of time and return of the light with some sort of ceremony.

1. Make a declaration

For years, I’ve celebrated the winter solstice by declaring it my personal winter holiday. I take the day off and spend part of it reflecting on the year behind me and the year ahead of me. I allow myself to begin thinking about how I would like the year-to-come to look. Perhaps the idea won’t be fully formulated until New Year’s day, but the process begins on the winter solstice. Maybe you can’t take the full day off, maybe it’s an hour of quiet reflection? Maybe it’s one of the other items on this list?

A more recent declaration I’ve needed to make is having this day be free of electronics. Yep, that means….no facecrack or instagram… or texting or email. If people need me, they can get old school and call me on the landline. Once your brain gets over its addiction (or perhaps it doesn’t get over it….which is good information to know), your whole being will thank you for the needed break. Since you’d be declaring the day for yourself, you could let all your important people know ahead of time.

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2. Get up with the sun

Get up early enough to greet the sun. Welcome the birth of the new year by watching it begin. I have the good fortune to live in a place relatively free of light pollution and can walk out into the frozen garden to watch the changing sky of the new sun year.

The ceremony can simply be you standing, greeting the sun and the day with gratitude.


3. Honor the light

Simple enough you honor the light sustaining all of us by lighting a candle or building a fire. Fire is fire regardless of the size.

A simple ceremony could be: Before lighting your taper candle (or one that will burn itself out in this one day), write into the candle wax, with a pencil or pen, your intentions for the year. Really take the time to distill down what it is you hope to pay attention to in the next year.

Have time for more elaboration? Make a sacred fire outside from a state of gratitude and if possible, making space to pray over every stick you gather. Put your intentions into the sticks you gather, aspects that no longer serve that you want to release, and things you want to bring into the year. You could build the fire and have loved ones from your community come later to place their own sticks into the fire or to bring pieces of paper with their intentions to burn.

Another way I like to honor the light is to gift my beloveds with a beeswax candle to remind them of the sweet light within us all.

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4. Nourishing gifts

Many years ago, I started celebrating the winter solstice by baking bread and sharing it with friends. I love this recipe from the Moosewood cookbook. The sunflower seeds and millet just feel sunny. The smell of baking bread in the house is a gift itself. (How about that for aromatherapy?!)

Click here to see the Sunflower Millet Bread Recipe from Moosewood 

The process of baking bread is meditative, takes all day, and helps me stay in the “retreat space” I am hoping to have on this day. I ask the blessing of nourishment to fill the bread and the bellies and spirits of the ones who receive it. (I know gluten is the new evil but for this one day I give it a pass…. I don’t care what anyone says — nothing tastes like warm, homemade, love-filled, gluten-full bread, slathered with butter or ghee!)

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5. Make Time to reflect

Carve out a little or a lot of time to drink some tea, wander in the woods, to draw a picture, or write in your journal.

Take time to simply examine the year that’s past. This longest night of the year is a perfect pivot point to look at what worked this past year and what didn’t work. Based on what you recall from the previous year, what would you like to call forward? How about this year you make it something attainable? Can it be as simple as daily gratitude? Welcoming the sun each day? Moving your body a little more? Taking time in a day to drink a cup of tea? Or read something inspiring? What about a luxurious bath once a week?

Only you can think of something realistic for yourself. Can it come from kindness and the deep, open-hearted place of your soul?

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6. Say good night to the sun

Bookend the day with being outside while the sun descends below the horizon. Do you have a favorite place to watch the sunset? Where does the sun set on the winter solstice from your home? Marking the passage of time doesn’t require grand gestures. It requires you. Standing there. Witnessing. Present.

The medicine for many of our modern ailments is not complex, nor does it require expensive interventions. The ceremonies from this list can be condensed to the following:

  • Practice gratitude
  • Put down the distracting electronics
  • Go outside
  • Give yourself space, without an agenda
  • Be present to your surroundings
  • Look around at something bigger than you
  • Smell
  • Listen
  • Feel what’s present
  • Offer kindness

It is my profound hope that you find the space to stand and mark the passage of time with your presence in the world around you

The simple act of pausing and bringing your full attention to the moment allows your entire being (including your nervous system) to reset, to come into the gorgeous present and remember what is important.

We can use any situation, any moment, to come home.

Happy solstice.
May the light return.

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I'm a researcher, educator, guest lecturer, and co-founder of Heartstone Center for Earth Essentials in Van Etten, NY.