“New tradition” seems like an oxymoron. Traditions, after all, are passed down over time. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a tradition as “the handing down of information, beliefs, or customs from one generation to another.” But here I am, starting a new tradition from an ancient one. My reasons for embracing a new holiday are simple. For one thing, I don't like the materialistic focus of the “holiday season.” I also believe, from the historical facts, that Jesus wasn't born on December 25th, so the day itself is irrelevant to me. But all the same, it is the “holiday season” and I feel a need to have a holiday to celebrate.
So what are my options? Among the holidays celebrated at this time of year are Diwali, Human Rights Day, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Winter Solstice, Humbug Day, Christmas, Milad un Nabi, New Year and World Peace Meditation Day.
The Winter Solstice stands apart from the other observations of the season in that it is an astronomical event, as well as a cultural and religious celebration. There are two solstices in the solar year: Winter Solstice and Summer Solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice occurs in December and marks the shortest day and longest night of the solar year, while the Summer Solstice happens in June and marks the longest day and the shortest night.
Between each of the solstices there is an equinox. The Spring Equinox takes place in March and the Fall Equinox in September. Both mark days and nights of equal length. All of these events happen as a part of the solar year that comprises the Earth's journey around the Sun. Each hemisphere experiences the solstices and their accompanying seasons at opposite times of the year. The December solstice is the official beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
In some traditions, the solstices and equinoxes are important waymarks in the agricultural calendar. In fact, The Twelve Days of Christmas may have originally been a blending of the Scandinavian Yule festival and the practice in some regions of slaughtering cattle and other animals used for food in the winter time. Animals that couldn't be fed off the farms during the cold, winter months were butchered and a community feast followed.
The solstices also mark important days in some religious traditions. Because it is the turning point in the length of days, daytime ceases to become shorter and light begins to linger longer. In pagan traditions, this marked the time of the rebirth of the sun. Because of this, solstice celebrations often include bonfires or candles to represent the triumph of light over darkness.
The Winter Solstice is a natural fit for my new tradition. It satisfies a growing desire to bring my life more into harmony with God's “times and seasons,” both temporal and spiritual, and to become more aware that I am part of my environment, a participant, whether by intention or default. I believe the heavens and the Earth are gifts from the Creator. Observing the solstice creates a pause in my life to stop and appreciate the natural world that sustains me.
The solstice is also symbolic of leaving behind darkness. I've passed through much darkness in my life. The past year brought two of the darkest moments I've experienced thus far, in the deaths of my mother and younger brother less than six months apart. The solstice offers a symbolic way acknowledge that darkness has an end and to welcome the growing light, the anticipation of brighter days and seasons of blossoms and bounty to come.
But starting a tradition from scratch begs a fundamental question: How do I do it? I had to work late into the evening yesterday and I don't know anyone else who observes the solstice yet. This time around, it was just me. A bonfire wasn't practical. I could have burned candles while I worked, but that seemed halfhearted when my focus had to remain on the work. What I opted for was a little different, something that accommodated my needs and schedule. I actually observed the end of the solstice. This morning, I welcomed the new astronomical year and celebrated the end of the longest night of the year by getting up early enough to watch the sunrise. I gave thanks for the light and that light, no matter how small, displaces darkness. I gave thanks for the bird songs that swelled with the advancing light and the marvelous revelations of creation that appeared as sunlight found its way through the jostling layers of clouds overhead. I reflected on the events I passed through during the last year and the fact that life, like the path of the sun across the sky, can only move in one direction. And, like the sun, it doesn't stand still. It may seem to be obscured by storm clouds, but it cannot be extinguished.
I'm calling my first observance of the Winter Solstice a success. My intention is to observe the equinoxes and fall solstice in their seasons. I'd love to know how others observe their own traditions. If you would like to share something about which traditions are dear to you and why, feel free to leave a comment below.