Today marks the Winter Solstice in the southern hemisphere. It is the shortest day of the year; how short depends on how far you are from the Equator. Where I live near Adelaide there are 9 hours 48 minutes of daylight and 14 hours 12 minutes of darkness. From tomorrow the days begin to get longer and the nights shorter.
In the northern hemisphere, the Winter Solstice coincides with the celebration of Christmas which became conflated with previous pagan festivals that commemorated the depths of winter. Ancient stone circles such as Stonehenge were aligned to mark the winter and summer solstices, indicating the profound significance of these days. And in the Scandinavian and Germanic cultures the midwinter festival of Yule honoured the gods in order to protect the people from starvation through the depth of winter to come.
These days there are few at risk of starvation, but the observance of the deep winter continues strongly in the northern hemisphere where Christmastide contains within it the Yuletide of old. There is a celebration of the light within the darkness in the Yule log and Christmas tree lights. There is an echo of the winter slaughter of animals and brewing of ale in the form of Christmas feasting. And there is the tribute to the power of the tribe in the gathering of friends and family on Christmas Day.
Yet here in the Australia, we are bereft of a celebration of winter. Our Christmas Day comes at the opposite end of the year, when the days are long and the temperatures high. How can we celebrate the depth of winter? Some people have inaugurated their own ‘Christmas in July’ as a way of reconnecting to this winter spirit.
In the Five Element model, the Winter Solstice is the seasonal manifestation of the Water Element. Water represents the deepest yin: dark, cold, moist, withdrawing, self-reflective. If we can align ourselves with these qualities at this time of year, we connect with the power of yin. The more we can go to these deep places within, the more we have access the gifts of Water: Knowing, Potential, Power, Stillness, Trust, Wisdom and Will.
Our culture is not very supportive of yin. And here in the southern hemisphere we don’t have a festival to celebrate the aspects of yin. So we need to create or own personal commemoration of the Winter Solstice. Over the next days, I invite you to spend more time resting, meditating, contemplating. Sit quietly by the fire; light the room with candles; take solitary walks in nature; tuck up in bed early. Plumb the depths of your own Water within. Cultivating your yin qualities at this time of year will provide you with the resources and the resilience to sustain you through the yang half of the year which begins in spring.