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Celebrating the Darkest Night of the Year

December is known to be a festive time of year with many holiday celebrations like Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas and Winter Solstice. Jennifer Hamilton, who is celebrating Winter Solstice, tells us about her traditions this time of year and the similarities it has to Christmas, including carols such as Deck the Halls.

“It started for two reasons," Hamilton said. "One, I wanted to find some celebrations that were seasonal for a community group that I was involved in and I had a Waldorf-inspired nature based preschool back in the day for my oldest. We found all of these traditions around yuletide or winter solstice. We decided to start dabbling in that because it had a more meaningful experience for us-- in that we are not Christian but it has a similar feel.”

“There’s two solstices every year--there’s Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice," she said. "Winter Solstice, you have the longest night of the year because the sun is the farthest away. And so the celebrations wrap around that story - kind of that duality, that ying-yang if you will and the duality of the seasons.”

“The traditions that our family does for winter solstice are very similar to what yuletide or Christmas time feels like - especially in our culture now," she said. "We have what’s called a yuletide tree. It’s going to be an evergreen. That’s a symbol that was carried over from solstice and yuletide traditions from a long time. So the evergreen bough and the holly are traditionally yuletide symbols so we keep with those. We do have lights because they represent this. We are aware of the darkness and the lights kind of help give us hope throughout the darkest times of the year.”

“A tradition that we’ve adopted from the Waldorf methodology is something called a spiral garden. You get pine boughs and put them into a big spiral. In the middle you have a tree stump and with a candle on it. Each participant has an apple, which is kind of the idea of bearing fruit - the foreshadowing of good things to come. There’s a candle inside-that’s kind of stuck on the top. The children walk in with an unlit candle through this spiral. Again the idea of circling into the darkest night - they go center which is the sun. They light their candle and on the way out they choose a spot in the spiral where they can lay down their apple. And so by the end when all of the children have gone through that process the spiral is lit up. That’s a symbol that there are warmer days ahead.”