The reverent, pregnant quietude of the sunless days leading up to the Winter Solstice are so unmistakably sacred that I can't believe any culture in humanity's hundreds of millennia hasn't felt the urge to mark them in some way.
What was once thousands of unique Winter traditions has been gradually winnowed into 2 or 3 major choices that 'just happen to' coincide with the longest nights of the year, but now have very little connection to Nature at all, let alone the specific place where you are celebrating.
They're so disconnected, in fact, that for people in the southern hemisphere they coincide with the shortest nights of the year, though they're still marked with the same greenery and candles. (And if that isn't weird enough, they then celebrate the rebirth of Nature (Ostara, or Easter) in the Fall! It boggles the mind....).
Of course, people celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas aren't trying to celebrate Nature- it's just hard to unsee the connection between these holidays and the Solstice once you understand it.
If you celebrate one of the major Winter holidays and want to incorporate more Nature-based traditions, or if you want to create Winter Solstice traditions from the ground up, I've made a list of 31 ideas below. All of these are centered around the intentions of slowing down, spending quality time together, and expressing reverence for the bit of Earth you belong to.
Choose however many activities you'll need to get to your holy day (the Solstice is on the 21st, fyi) then write them out on strips of paper and put them in a bowl. Or be like me and fastidiously plan out which activity goes on which day and wait for your plans to unravel a week or two in (this is me reminding myself to just do a bowl this year ; ).
The vehicle, while special, doesn't matter nearly as much as the warmth in your heart and the reverence of your spirit. It's what this time was made for- to appreciate how much we have when everything else- the leaves, flowers and fruit; the insects and birds; even the sun- goes dormant. All that's left is each other and the eternal land.
At least, that's all that was left for our pre-supply chain ancestors.
And that's what we can capture again, at least for one dark, quiet moment.
30 Nature-Based Winter Advent Ideas:
1 make lanterns
2 dip candles or make some out of rolled beeswax sheets
3 make night animal ornaments or figurines
4 pick out a tree or wreath
5 be a holiday fairy and secretly leave gifts or do good deeds for friends and relatives
6 feed the animals- decorate trees outside
7 read favorite holiday stories (repeat as often as needed!)
8 draw or paint holiday cards
9 pick one kind of gift to make and then make enough for everyone you know!
10 collect donations for people who might be cold or hungry
11 learn about the solstice traditions of another continent (repeat!)
12 watch favorite wintry or holiday movies (repeat!)
13 send cheery cards or videos to the residents of nursing homes
14 make a cranberry and popcorn garland
15 make holders for your candles out of salt dough or air-dry clay
16 if it gets cold enough where you live, make ice lanterns
17 pick a living tree in your neighborhood to befriend and care for through the year
18 make a moon calendar for the new year
19 start a wishing tree in your neighborhood where people can write their wishes on large gift tags and hang them on the branches
20 make elderberry syrup and/or fire cider for winter coughs and colds
21 ask an elder how they celebrated Winter when they were your age (repeat!)
22 wrap gifts without buying anything! use fabric or grocery bags, then decorate!
23 pack a thermos of hot cocoa and head out for a nature walk in the dark- what are the animals up to? Can you find any signs of winter hideouts? (Please do not disturb the animals, of course : )
24 learn about what the animals in your area do for Winter. Do any hibernate? Where?
25 prank call friends, family, even local businesses and sing holiday songs
26 weave bright Ojo stars- tiny ones from toothpicks, giant ones from sticks or in-between ones on coffee stirrers or popsicle sticks
27 make a Winter crown out of natural materials that you find on the ground or ethically forage (make sure you don't take anything the animals need for winter food!)
28 cut out a gazillion paper snowflakes
29 put a peppermint stick into an orange and suck until it becomes a straw
30 make a special holiday dish or treat that is traditional in your family. Write out the recipe (it's very fun to have small kids do this from memory- especially the measurements they give and their description of the process) and share with friends and family.
31 set out to learn a new Winter holiday tradition- either from the ancestors of the land where you live, or from your family ancestors, wherever they may be from. The Solstice has been sacred since the beginning of humanity, so there's always more to learn!
I hope this gives you ideas and inspiration for a heart-centered December, whatever traditions you practice. May you and yours have a very lovely season.