If you’ve never done a winter solstice practice, now is the perfect time to start.
The longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere is upon us, and it brings an incredible opportunity to let go of thoughts, habits, and beliefs that no longer serve you and leave them in the darkness.
In recent years, I’ve combined my year-end review with this winter solstice practice and when I look back on it, it’s one of the main reasons I’ve had two extraordinary years in a row.
The winter solstice—the shortest day and longest night of the year—not only marks the first day of winter, but it also marks the sun’s return as we leave behind the darkness.
As the days get longer with more light, the darkness fades away as the nights get shorter. The winter solstice usually occurs between December 20th-December 23rd in the northern hemisphere and June 20-June 22nd in the southern hemisphere. In 2019, the winter solstice is on Saturday, December 21st.
Celebrated in cultures across the world for centuries, the winter solstice is considered an auspicious time to go inwards and reflect.
For example, in China, the Dongzhi Festival marks the beginning of winter and is an important time for families to get together. Its celebration is rooted in the yin and yang philosophy, or the balance of dark & light or positive or negative. (Sidenote: the yin and yang philosophy is complex and fascinating, and deserves its own post. We’ll save that for another time.) In Iran, the ancient Persian festival Yalda celebrates the end of shorter days and the victory of light over darkness. People gather at Stonehenge in England to celebrate the winter solstice and the turning of the seasons, and all across the world, people come together to celebrate the solstice.
The winter solstice marks the end of the fall harvest season and the rebirth of the earth getting ready for light and growth. A winter solstice practice is a non-religious tradition, and it’s perfect to couple with religious traditions or simply use it as a tool for more self-awareness and growth.
Because the winter solstice is the longest night of the year, where the most darkness occurs with the return to longer days after, a winter solstice practice often centers on discovering thoughts, habits, and beliefs that you want to let go of and leave in the dark.
In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice falls close to the new year, so this is an excellent way to combine a year-end review to determine what you will do less of and what you will do more of in the coming year to make a plan that supports the life you want to live.
Winter Solstice + Year-End Happiness Practice
Step 1: Embrace the Darkness
Once the sun has gone down, turn off all the artificial lights and light a candle or two. Allow yourself to sit in the darkness for a few minutes (or all night). Remember, the days are about to get longer. The winter solstice is about honoring the turning of the season and the darkness.
Step 2: Grab a Pen and Paper
Grab a pen or pencil and two pieces of paper. On one piece of paper, you’ll write what went well, and on the other, you’ll write what did not go well and what you want to leave behind. You can do this any time of day if doing it in the evening doesn’t work for you, but it’s meaningful to do during the longest period of darkness of the year.
Step 3: Write Down What Went Well
Think about the last year and what went well. First, focus on what went well so you can add more of that into the next year. I recommend taking a look at your calendar over the last year to jog your memory about things that went well, like meetings, trips, and spending time with people you love. Write “More of This” (or something similar) and write as many things as you can. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, just write. Looking at your calendar really helps! It jogs your memory and reminds you of small events or people you may have forgotten about.
Step 4: Write Down What No Longer Serves You
On the other piece of paper, write “What No Longer Serves Me” at the top of the page, then write what did not go well this year. This winter solstice ritual is really about releasing these things, so you’re going to burn this piece of paper after you write down what you want to release (provided you have a safe place to burn it.) If you write an event, what habit, belief, or thought contributed to the negative event? If you write down a person, what habit, belief, thought, or lack of boundaries needs to change?
Since this ritual practice is about letting go, spend some extra time on the list of things that no longer serve you. Again, include events, people, tasks, thoughts, habits, and beliefs. Once you’ve completed your list, take a minute to review it. Read each line and tell yourself that you’re leaving it behind in the darkness.
Step 5: Burn What No Longer Serves You!
Next, burn it! Use common sense and find a fireplace, firepit, or another safe way to burn the paper—if you’re able to go outside and be in the darkness with a fire to burn it, even better. If you can’t burn it, simply dispose of it. Take comfort in leaving behind what no longer serves you.
Step 6: Save What Went Well & Schedule More of It
Save that piece of paper with everything that went well and use it to schedule more of these things in the year to come. I like to do this on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day to make a plan to create a great year. I read the idea of looking back at your calendar and find the best times of the year—things you want to do more of—from a blog post that Tim Ferriss wrote a few years ago and it’s been one of the best ideas I’ve found! He said to look at your calendar from the year and write down what went well, then schedule more of those things in right away in January. Don’t wait or it probably won’t happen. I’ve done it for two years and can say that the last two years have been outstanding.
However you decide to do it, take some time to write down what no longer serves you and let it go. Only you can create the life you want to live. Go get it!