With the pressure of the holidays, crunch time at work and family obligations, it can be easy to overlook the winter solstice.
The word solstice comes from the Latin phrasing “Sol Sistere” which translates to “Sun stands still”. The arc of the sun starts lowering and shortening at the end of June. When the sun reaches its lowest arc leading up to the north’s Winter Solstice, we perceive the sun rising and setting in the same place. This all happens because of the earth’s tilt and oval orbit around the sun. As the shortest day of the year, we may feel the urge to hibernate with a book or binge on our favorite Netflix series, but consider some outdoor activities and holistic celebrations to embrace this renewal of change.
1. Solstice Yoga and Meditation
I have found the practice to be the best thing I can do to start my day. Allowing yourself time to be “in your body” while focusing on my breathing and body positioning is rejuvenating. Why not start your new year with an extended session to get your vibrations into the positive? Practicing yoga on a day with energy as powerful as a solstice is a great time for self-reflection and regeneration. Focus on your inner light and build strength to carry that light forward into the cold days and nights ahead.
2. Cold Weather Hiking
I find a great deal of peace by being in the mountains and surrounded by trees. I prefer to hike with my dog and the simple act of walking in nature is a great time for reflection and helps my mind flow freely. Hiking in the winter offers even more solitude with no one on the trail. Feel the crisp moisture in your lungs and listen to the silence around you. Stillness. It is the perfect canvas for your mind to express itself. Quite often, I find myself thinking of a few words that become a sentence, and then I build upon it as I continue hiking.
Here are some lines that came to me on a recent hike:
Somewhere seeking I did sit
Beside a brook with time to knit
The threads of thoughts with which I’m hit
Truths I’ve told and un-truths I’ve spit
The sun descends and my shadow is split.
3. Snowshoe in the moonlight
The moon will be one day shy of being full on the solstice this year. If the weather cooperates, this can provide a wonderful opportunity to get out and enjoy the longest night of the year without a flashlight. Head out in the afternoon and watch the sunset from the top of a hill and then let your eyes adjust and continue on into the night under a moonlit sky. Explore new places or the new look of old places with the subtle light of the moon. If you’re feeling adventurous, try staying up all night, hiking through the entire Solstice and then welcome the return of the light at sunrise.
4. Warm Candle light … or Light Pockets™
If the weather is uncooperative, consider going without electricity and use candles to light your home this night. Make it extra cozy. Let it be quiet for a moment. Sit in peace. Think about the beauty and warmth of the light that candles emit, the way the subtle airflow in the room makes them flicker. Try to imagine those who have lived before us and enjoy a moment of not having the electricity on.
Or enjoy the glow of your headlamp in your NEMO tent with Light Pockets™ — a pocket made of light diffusing fabric that lets you turn your tent into a lantern..
5. Set your Intentions, release the Past
As we turn this gravitational corner and catapult forward into our next orbit around the sun, take a moment to write down some intentions and adventures you want to explore in the new year. Use this special day to make a list of goals you’d like to accomplish, things you’d like to practice and get better at, and ways you might want to live differently in the year ahead. Meditate on them.
Then write a list of all the things that you want to let go of from the past year. Open up and don’t be attached. Write them down with an open heart and when you are ready, throw them into the fireplace and allow the flames to transform the darkness into light. Let them go with a clear mind. Learn from them. And be gentle on yourself.
6. Long Shadow Photography
The lower angle of the sun produces the longest noontime shadows of the year. This can provide opportunities for some dynamic imagery, including your own shadow. The alpenglow this time of year can be incredible as well — sun light traveling through the atmosphere at the end of the day catching all of that color and reflecting off the snowy peaks. Stunning. Grab your phone or camera, family and friends, and capture the range of shadows and colors that present themselves this time of year. Explore the light with a focus on the shadows, because the light won’t be like this again until this same moment a year from now. It happens fast.
7. Fat bike over new terrain
I have yet to try fat biking, but I have been mountain biking for many years now. I spoke with someone about fat biking recently and they said the reason they love it so much is because “you don’t need to go on a long ride to get a great workout and you can explore new areas covered in snow, crushing new terrain that you usually don’t get to ride over.” And exercising in the cold releases more endorphins in our bodies — helping us to push harder to achieve our intended goals and feel more alive in the winter months. It’s amazing what a little fun and exercise will do for our bodies, especially in wintry conditions.
8. Snowboarding & skiing:
Even as a teenager, I always appreciated moments in the woods where I would stop to look around at the powder, trees, rocks and absorb the stillness of the forest. I consider these observations to be sacred and welcome them as much as a warm meal or a good night’s sleep. The beauty of sliding through trees can be a meditation on focusing where you want to go. Don’t look at the trees (obstacles), but focus on the openings (opportunities) between the trees to see you through.
After a day of snowboarding, my best friends and I used to harmonize. Say what now? Yes, we would stand in a circle with our arms around each other and all reach for the same note/pitch where our voices were in unison and you could not only hear it, but feel it. It was a simple act that connected me with my best friends. I highly recommend trying it — maybe tonight around a big Winter Solstice bonfire with a few beers after a long day on the slopes!
9. Celebrate new traditions
You don’t need to throw a multi-day feast like the Scandinavians’ Juul (Yule). You don’t need to stay up late eating pomegranate and watermelon like the Iranian Yalda night or cut mistletoe like the Druids did in Britain.
Celebrating the return of longer days can be as simple as having a backyard bonfire with family and friends. Take turns reading poetry or the lyrics to your favorite songs out loud. Share and receive something unexpected. Make your own celebrations! Find a spot in the woods and just sit still long enough for the forest to forget you are there and observe the wildlife in their nature state. Build a sweat lodge and invite your friends over for a sauna-like experience. If you live in the Northern zones, find some chaga growing in the forest and make some wild tea.
The Winter Solstice is a powerful time of year and should be appreciated like any other holiday in the year. We give thanks and appreciate family, friends, health, food, and shelter. We aim to be better spouses, bosses, co-workers, friends, parents, and siblings. Seasons change and so do we. Why wait to make resolutions or try something new? Being active and enjoying the solstice will provide you with many benefits for your body, mind, and soul — as well the gift of being present. Allow Mother Nature to guide you towards a sense of wellbeing and mindfulness.
The solstice is the apex of our travels. And although we’re at our furthest point from the sun, our journey continues and we will return to where we started once again. Let’s get outside to embrace our environments, our fortunes and see what we can see, regardless of day or night.
Shem Roose is a Vermont photographer, poet, and explorer with a passion for adventures in the mountains and on the water, for his friends and family, and for the simple beauty in life.