December 21st was the winter solstice—well, every year on that day we mark the solstice. In the northern hemisphere we associate this day with a lack of sunlight, so it is known as the shortest day of the year. In the southern hemisphere it is the longest day of the year; below the equator summer has just begun. What I learned while reading up on the solstice is that it is not a day, it is a moment. The solstice, astronomically speaking, is on the day when the sun is the lowest in the sky at its highest point (12 noon). This moment signals that the hemisphere is the farthest away from the sun it will ever be during a rotation around the sun.
The earth, the galaxy, the cycles of nature are constantly spinning and continually moving. If the solstice is only an astronomical moment—every moment after the northern hemisphere is moving closer and closer to the sun. We are moving too.
For us in the northern hemisphere, being so far away from the sun means that it is winter, it is cold. Many of the holidays around the time of the solstice focus on being inside, getting cozy, eating food, and creating light (think fireplace, candles). Rituals around food and warmth make a lot of sense but this year I am thinking about rituals of movement.
Every morning I take a walk; having a dog encourages this activity—even necessitates it. My morning walks are full of potential: while I watch the sun rise, I am excited for the day ahead. Watching the sunrise is easier during the winter because sunrises occur later. During a morning walk I set my intentions for the day.
Now that I consider my winter days, I also walk in the afternoon. My second walk of the day feels urgent: the sun is going to set soon, I must soak it up before it disappears. Winter sunsets are depressingly early. Depending on where you are, the sun sets somewhere between 3:30p and 5:30p (EST). Walking lifts my spirits, and warms my body. I hardly want to walk in the afternoon when it is cold and the sun is low in the sky, but once I get moving I am grateful.
No matter how you choose to recognize the solstice, I recommend that you honor the change in seasons, the change in the positions of the heavenly bodies. The solstice marks a change in the natural world that I believe is reflected in ourselves. New traditions are always full of possibilities, and that can be an exciting thing during a time of year when it feels as if the world, and our energies, are asleep.
The position of the sun in the sky determines the length of our shadow. When the sun is high in the sky during the summer our shadow is smaller, or shorter because the sun is more directly overhead (a light source directly above an object only casts a shadow below the object, which doesn’t create a dimension of length). In the winter, when the sun is the lowest it will be in the sky, our shadows are longest. When it is cold, we may feel tired, or small, but our shadows tell a different story: we are big, and capable of wonderful things.