Celebrating the Winter Solstice

December 21st, 2013 - filed under: Furthermore » Inspiration


Saturday, December 21st, was the very shortest day of 2013. I celebrate Hanukkah and I celebrate Christmas, but of all the winter holidays, Solstice is the one that most speaks to my heart. It’s a day for contemplating darkness; it is literally the darkest day of the year.

But, in its passing, we move to a new phase – the lengthening of light.

So essentially, the Solstice commemorates balance – the cyclical nature of life, the Universe, and, well, everything. We must pass through this darkest moment before we can bask in the light. Again, and again.

Be present with the darkness. Feel it. Touch it. It is an essential part of life.


We celebrated, as we do every year, at the home of my godparents. High in the foothills overlooking the canyons and beyond, the ocean. They have been holding Solstice gatherings for all of my life. Some years big, boisterous parties with wine and singing, feast and fire dancing. Other years are small and intimate. Like this one: quieter, closer, cocooning.

But there are some things we always do.

We always make fire at dusk:


Our recent fire ritual has included burning scraps of paper. We write down a hope, a wish, a dream, and send it out into the world as smoke. Or, we inscribe the paper with that which we want to release. Bad habits. Old hurt. Burned, carried away on the wings of ashes.

Waits has become quite enamored with Iron Man, so when I asked him what his wish for the new year was, all he kept saying was “Iron Man, mama! Iron Man!” And he asked me to draw him a picture of Iron Man on his scrap, and so we did (he helped), and then we came up with words to describe all the reasons he likes Iron Man.

Those words will be my wishes for him this year.


Everyone burned something.

Beautiful Natalie


And after the sun was down and the last of the light was gone . . .

This little one couldn’t wait.


Split pea soup, roasted root veggies, spinach salad, crusty bread. Which led to . . .


In Winter Solstices past, we used to read this one poem every year. We would sit in a big circle, and one by one we would go around sharing our thoughts regarding darkness; our reflections on that past year. And invariably, it would be one of the grown-ups’ turns, and instead of speaking they would pull The Book from under their pillow. And all of the kids would groooooan, “No, not that goose poem again!

Except me. I wouldn’t groan, because I am a sentimental sap, and because also, I really love that goose poem. It is my Winter Solstice poem, and the night wouldn’t be complete without it.

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Blessings as you move towards light,

♥ Sayward ♥

  • Megan

    this. makes it so clear. what you offer on bonzai aphrodite is a gift for others– thank you for putting yourself “out there” and sharing your life, your thoughts, and your experiences to those of us who pass by or tune in for a regular dose of sayward.

    here’s to light and to balance.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you so much Megan. Thank you – to light and balance. ♥

  • http://www.carrieonvegan.com/ Carrie @ Carrieonvegan

    Happy Solstice, dear Sayward! I saw a flock of wild geese in the sky recently and the poem you shared made me remember what a beautiful sight it was.

  • Grace

    Lovely Post. Happy Solstice!

  • Katrina Donovan Fleming

    That is probably the coolest thing I have seen in ages. When I was Waits’ age, I lived with my parents and brother in a commune with about thirteen other adults. We were always doing cool stuff like this. I miss that life often, when everything was an adventure. Thanks for the reminder. I love your thoughts on dark and light. It’s so true. I think we (read I) sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that the perfect and balanced life has only light. But that ain’t the way it works, is it? As you say, there is always darkness present. There has to be.

    Have a lovely Solstice!

  • Steph P

    Sayward, this post really touched me. I’ve been reading your blog for ages, and it always seems like you are a step ahead of me, showing me the path that I might not have noticed otherwise. I’ve finally gone vegan in the past month, I feel amazing, and I just wanted to give you your kudos and say thank you for creating such a positive, honest space.

    I’m probably a little weepy just cause it’s the season, but that goose poem really hit me where i live, and Waits’ Ironman drawing is so freaking precious. “Fuel Gauge!”, oh god I died, how adorable.

    Thanks for being you, cause you are awesome. <3

  • Sonja

    this is such a beautiful post. Thank you so much, Sayward! I went to a great Yoga clas son Solstice, celebrating Lakshmi, the goddess of light. Have a very lovely christmas and I wish you all the best for 2014 <3 Love and light

  • http://www.chaoswitch.com/blog Lee

    Happy Winter Solstice! This is a lovely post. I’ve celebrated Summer Solstice down under, with some close friends. There is nothing more lovely than sharing a green feast with a dear few.

  • Lynn

    What a Lovely post! I love celebrating the Solstices :) We have a very similar ritual for the Winter Solstice where we build an outdoor fire and we write a list of things we are leaving behind from the turning year and a list of things we are taking with us/ways we hope to grow/things we hope to accomplish in the coming year :) Have a beautiful holiday season filled with Light and Love :)

  • Chaya Kurtz

    This is so beautiful!

  • http://practicalecologist.blogspot.com/ Rachel

    Yup. I love that poem. Wonderful.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you Steph, I always appreciate hearing feedback like this when I share more personal stuff on the blog. And I love hearing that you’ve gone vegan, and that you feel great! Tis the season for being weepy, I’ve been sentimental a lot too, lately. That poem gets to the heart of it, doesn’t it?!

    Thanks again, and have an AWESOME new year. =)

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  • Marryon

    It is a nice celebration. the solstice is either of the two times a year
    when the Sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator, the
    great circle on the celestial sphere that is on the same plane as the
    earth’s equator. You can click here to know more about writings.