Solstice celebrations in Capital Region honor brighter times ahead
December 19, 2020
On the darkest day of 2020, there will be singing, bonfires, luminaries and laughter.
Astronomically speaking, that day will be Monday, Dec. 21 — the winter solstice — the shortest day and longest night of the year. On that date, many cultures will celebrate the return of the sun, as the hours of daylight once again begin to extend.
Capital Region celebrants say events to honor the winter solstice are much needed during this year darkened by the pandemic and political unrest.
Celebrating Celtic Roots
Celebrating the winter solstice brings Lin Murphy of Saratoga Springs back to her Celtic roots.
“The Celtic peoples celebrated all of the seasonal rituals. Winter solstice is really only one of eight,” she explained, noting it’s her favorite.
In the past, Murphy has held winter solstice parties with friends and family around a roaring bonfire at Still Point Interfaith Retreat Center in Mechanicville. The promise of light-filled days to come was celebrated with drumming, dancing, chanting and song.
“Return, return, return the light; return the light,” she sang, recalling past celebrations.
By the light of the fire, celebrants offered up prayers for
winter, personal prayers and prayers for the world.
“We would welcome the Four Directions, invite the energies and the winds and the spirits, and then enjoy some food together,” she said, explaining that welcoming the directions is a global, indigenous form of opening the ceremony.
Murphy said there’s an art to her solstice ceremonies: Participants gather, welcome in the spirits and energies, then journey through a “gateway,” where things are let go.
“For example, I want to release my fears, my worries about COVID and let some of that go. I want to release my bad feelings,” she explained.
Participants take that mental baggage and imagine throwing it into the fire.
“Then you open it up to what you want to bring in — kind of a vision for the new year. And then close it up — release the directions and then have a feast,” Murphy said.
Each celebration is different, she noted, recalling a year when she put candles all around Still Point’s labyrinth.
“We walked the labyrinth together in the candlelight because it’s about the light. It’s the darkest night of the year, but it’s also the light turning, so it’s a really special moment,” she said.
Sometimes, she and her family hold a simple celebration at home, which involves lighting candles, decorating with greenery and making wishes for the new year.
“I usually build an altar on my back porch, with candles and greens, and any little stones or crystals or pictures of divine beings,” she said. “I bring in Mary Magdalene, I bring in Jesus, I bring in the divine presence of the goddess.”
Murphy said she will celebrate the 2020 winter solstice at home due to the pandemic. She’ll also celebrate virtually with the 13 Moon Mystery School community, based in California.
She said the upcoming celebration is much needed.
“Solstice means ‘sun standing still.’ So, it’s a time of stillness and quiet, and honoring that hibernating, which is perfect
for this winter because we are going to have to hibernate more than usual. So to have a ritual of ceremonies to actually say, ‘Yeah, it’s OK to get quiet and go inside and be still,’ maybe we can learn to do more of that. Our American culture is so speedy and fast, and we have to be busy all the time, so to honor that place of stillness is a good thing to do.”