10 Simple Winter Solstice Traditions

Winter Solstice is here, and we’ve come up with some simple ways to celebrate the holiday!

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This time of year, responsibilities, holiday events, and dodging illnesses can make things feel overwhelming. For those of us who celebrate Winter Solstice, also called Yule, the holiday may get lost in the shuffle. Pagans and other witchy folks tend to feel like they must perform an entire ritual to celebrate. The time and planning for Winter Solstice gets pushed for other more pressing things (especially when you have children). Then you end up not celebrating at all.

Winter Solstice/Yule is a celebration of the longest night of the year. We endure the darkness and cold to turn towards more light. It’s a time to be with loved ones and remember those who have passed on. You don’t have to go all out to have a memorable holiday. Sometimes simple is better. Here are ten ideas to get you started.

A Yule log

Yule log burning in a fireplace.
(D.R. Medlen)

If you have a fireplace or outdoor fire pit, a Yule log is a fun and easy activity. Take a log of cured firewood and decorate it with runes or words that mean something to you. They could be ones of blessings, protection, or prosperity. You can also write holiday wishes on paper, then use twine to wrap and secure the paper to the log. Also, tie herbs like rosemary to the wood for an added scent and magical boost. This is a good activity for kids to do as they can create their own messages to add.

When the log is ready, light it and watch it burn. The key to a Yule log is to let it burn until the log has turned completely to ash. It will help keep you warm and add light to the long night. After the ash has cooled, you can add it to your compost mix for the cycle to start again. (D.R. Medlen)

Solstice-themed picture books

Cover of The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis.

This activity is great if you have kids. There are lots of gorgeous children’s books out there that focus on the solstice—or celebrate the beauty of winter more generally. Make a cup of cocoa, pull your little ones onto your lap, and read them one of these books. (Julia Glassman)

  • The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis
  • Winter: a Solstice Story by Kelsey E. Gross and Renata Liwska
  • The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by  Wendy Pfeffer and Jesse Reisch

Make ornaments

Winter Solstice crafting supplies.
(Getty Images/ Metkalova)

Making ornaments can be as simple or complicated as you want. It’s an easily customizable activity to fit what you have on hand, and the ability of those making the ornaments. Craft stores have full kits to make ornaments. They also sell components like clear tubes or bulbs so you can fill the ornaments with whatever little items you want. This can be herbs, handwritten messages, or anything else that means something to you. A few years ago I used a woodburning tool to create images on wood pieces from my backyard and then hot glued ribbon onto them. These can be kept or given to people as small Winter Solstice gifts. (D.R.M.)

A year-ahead divination

Tarot cards fanned out on a table.
(Julia Glassman)

In late December, witches and other magically-inclined folks everywhere pull out their tarot cards and do a year-ahead reading. What is a year-ahead reading, exactly? You can check out our detailed instructions here, but basically, a year-ahead reading gives you a forecast of what to look out for in the coming year. You can pull one card for each month, or lay out a spread for each season.

If you really want to make your reading special, invite some friends over to do readings for each other! Tell everyone to bring their cards, runes, teacups, or other divination tools, and spend a chilly winter evening looking ahead to warmer days. (J.G.)

Decorate a tree

Yule tree in the snow.
(Getty Images/ borchee)

It may sound funny that decorating trees is a good pagan celebration, but it is! Christmas trees originated from Germanic cultures who would bring trees inside to keep nature alive during the cold season. The lights, or candles, on the tree, bring illumination during the darkness. Decorating and honoring them is all part of that tradition. So even if it is called a Christmas tree, decorating it with homemade, gifted, or purchased ornaments honors the pagan traditions as well. Adding antlers as the treetopper gives it an extra nature vibe. (D.R.M.)

A candle-lighting ritual

Two hands cup a lit candle against a dark background.
(Dhivakaran S via Pexels.com)

Notice how many winter solstice traditions revolve around creating light? That’s because when the sun is getting more sluggish every day—and when it disappears for months in some parts of the world—it’s only natural to want to create some light in its absence. Plus, lighting a candle is brimming with beautiful symbolism, like bringing joy and justice to what can feel like a broken world.

If you want to create a candle-lighting ritual of your own to mark the longest night of the year, all you have to do is light a candle. That’s really all there is to it. You can accompany the act with a moment of silence, a short prayer, a poem, or a song, or adapt the Yule log ritual above by carving words onto the candle. However, the core of this tradition is taking in the beauty of the light you’ve brought into the world. (J.G.)

A mini solstice vigil

A cabin in the snow at night, with the Northern Lights in the background.
(Stefan Stefancik, via Pexels.com)

In some spiritual traditions, practitioners stay up all night on the solstice, waiting for the sun to come back. They might fill the night with anything from raucous music to quiet contemplation.

You don’t have to necessarily stay up all night to hold a vigil (although I can say from experience that it’s a beautiful experience, especially if you go outside to watch the sun rise). If you want to honor the sun but you can’t stay up, try lighting an electric tea light before you go to bed. It’s a safe alternative to sleeping with a candle burning, and you’ll know the light is quietly beckoning the sun to come back. (J.G.)

Telling stories

Saoirse takes her mother's hand in 'Song of the Sea.'
(Cartoon Saloon)

Since this is a time to remember our ancestors, telling stories is a great way to connect. Sharing heartfelt or funny memories of our departed loved ones makes it feel like they are still close to us. Many think that on the longest night of the year the spirit world is closer than usual to our own. (D.R.M.)

A baked offering

Two hands set a plate of Christmas tree-shaped cookies onto a table decorated with greenery.
(Nicole Michalou, via Pexels.com)

Like so many other Christmas traditions, leaving cookies for Santa has echoes of much more ancient pagan practices. Why not take this tradition back to its roots? Bake something delicious, and leave some of it out when you go to bed. You could consider this offering a gift to your ancestors, or to other spirits who remind you of the winter solstice. Even if you consider this offering a purely symbolic gesture, it can infuse the day with some surprisingly profound meaning. (J.G.)

Have a feast

The dwarves share food with Bilbo in The Hobbit.
(Warner Bros.)

Sharing food with people is something that humans have been doing almost since the beginning of time. Coming together to share a meal of your baked goods, a harvest from your garden, or a roast you made honors those you care about. The meal could be as simple as you want. Making an easy, tasty meal at home will warm your house and your belly. Again, the holiday is all about connecting to those around you. The darkness will end, the light will return, and sharing a meal is a wonderful way to pass the time. (D.R.M.)

(featured image: Getty Images/Metkalova)

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Image of D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.
Image of Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>