How to Create a Solstice Ritual: Honoring Nature’s Pause

DSC01532Christmas often feels frantic and commercial instead of spiritual. New Year’s is party time. At Winter Solstice, I feel the peace of Nature’s dark pause and the gift of returning light. It’s my favorite winter holiday.

Since my husband Vic’s death in 2008, I’ve created Solstice rituals with my sons each year. We grieve over what is lost and celebrate our blessings. David’s wife Liz joins us now and adds her joy and spiritual perspective.

Personal ritual helps me throughout the year. I take flowers or small offerings to the place where Vic’s ashes are buried and light a candle before meditation. I create simple rituals to suit my needs, to contain grief, give thanks, ask for health for myself or others, or quiet myself in times of turmoil. Or because I need to feel connected to my heart and the earth.

Vic in maple leaves

Vic in maple leaves

Make the ritual your own. Read passages from scripture or inspirational writing that feels sacred to you. It could be something you’ve heard recited all your life or something you read for the first time last week. Sing favorite carols or play the music that speaks to  your heart. Share your favorite poetry, prayer, or passage. Add something beautiful from nature, like a feathers. acorns, or a stone. Add humor. Or be silent and light candles to honor the returning sun.

My family will express gratitude for life and pray for the suffering of others and our beautiful earth. We’ll speak about what we wish to leave behind before we light a candle—or two or three. Then we’ll voice our hopes for the future. We’ll hear our own and each other’s heart-words in a quiet intimate circle.

Evergreen boughs staying fresh for Solstice

Evergreen boughs staying fresh for Solstice

This year, I’ve gathered a red cloth to cover a wooden cabinet, a favorite photo of Vic (the one I keep on my altar), white and red tapers and white votive candles, evergreen boughs, feathers, pine cones, and acorns. We’ll pile it all on the dining room table along with the nativity figures and a few Christmas ornaments and build an altar together

Solstice altar 2012

Solstice altar 2012





First, we’ll lay the cloth and add candles and evergreen boughs. Maybe I’ll add a bowl of seeds to symbolize new life. As I have since Vic’s death, I’ll put his photo at the back. We’ll breathe in Nature’s pause and let our projects wait. Soon enough, we’ll welcome the New Year with self-care reforms, big goals, and resolutions.

Until then, may there be Peace in you, in me, in those we love, in those who are far away, and in those who are alone at home or strangers in distant lands.

Peace on Earth. Blessed Solstice to All.


For a post about last year’s Solstice ritual, see Solstice Blessings: A Family Ritual of Remembrance and Love. You’ll also enjoy Creating A Grief Ritual: Love, Loss, and Continuing Bonds.

  1. The photo of Vic encircled by maple leaves is precious, and priceless to you, I imagine. So glad you can find comfort in rituals and the love of family surrounding you at this special time of year, Elaine.

    • Thank you, Marian. Six months after Vic died, I cleaned out his desk and found this photo in the back of his desk drawer. It was the last in a packet of promotional photos I had taken for his first book. He was tired of posing, so he ducked under the red maple tree branches, stuck his face out, and grinned in an exasperated sort of way. I snapped. I had completely forgotten about these photos since they were taken 10 years before he died–but what a find. This was the picture that said the most to me: Vic, man of the earth, keeper of the forest, and lover of life.

  2. Elaine,
    This is so beautiful, and as always, your words soothe me like no other. I journeyed back to the other articles that you suggested and now write with tears in my eyes.
    Without conscious planning, I have been adding special things from nature, and one small toys that I find, to the place I keep Tiven’s ashes. The main feature is a tall bottle filled with sand and beach treasures and his photo; made for me by a dear friend. I also have a small marble urn with his ashes there, that I am safekeeping for his father.
    I’ve done this since “meeting” you. You have reminded me of the value of ritual. The 22nd is the birthday of my twin sisters, one we lost Feb 9, 2012. I’m working on a special ritual/place for her too. Paul is next.
    I hope you don’t mind, but I may use your Rumi quote for a post it/you inspired.
    This reading and writing makes me cry, but I’m working on allowing the tears to flow without the associated panic.
    Thank you and warm hugs,

    • How wonderful, Patti. Your photos tell me you are a natural altar maker. It helps. Last week, feeling glum and overwhelmed, I strapped on my snowshoes and took crab apples out to Vic’s cairn. Or I light a candle and remember he would tell me to chill out and stop worrying about things that don’t matter in the end. When he was younger, he worried over his own books or talks, but he had complete faith in me. Rituals help me take in more of his love and support while moving on in life.

      The night after Vic’s memorial service, I built an altar just for him. It has morphed and changed in time and become my altar with things that support me, including Vic. You’re already doing it, and I know it will help contain your grief and tears.

  3. I’ll be doing one for the first time this year. Happy to have some ideas to add to the celebration. I especially like how you included evergreens & seeds.

  4. Elaine, this writing gives me a rare sense of peace in this season. I will create a solstice ritual rather than focus on a Christmas ritual. It keeps the true spirit of the holidays
    Wishing you and your family a peaceful and healthy new year
    With love, Patt Wisse

    • How wonderful, Patt. It’s exciting to think of solstice altars all over the world and in the homes of women I know. Almost every religious tradition from the northern hemisphere celebrates the birth or return of the sun/son this time of year, so this feels universal and all-encompassing. And it doesn’t clash with any specific religious tradition. Blessed Solstice.

  5. So beautiful, Elaine ~ and well worth sharing. Thank you ♥

  6. “Make the ritual your own.” Very good advice, Elaine. Setting aside time during the solstice for contemplation and meditation is something I need to do. I love the collection of natural objects in your photographs. It will help me find that still point in the daily rush of everyday pressures and the urge to push away grief during a season of celebrations. Your advice suggests making room for inner peace. Thanks.

    • Jill, thanks for your reflections. Let’s add room for healing in the solar pause since this is a time for (northern hemisphere) renewal for the earth and for us. Anyone can look around their home or outside and find appropriate things for their altar. This has a serious nature, but playful, too.

      Now excuse me while I go put more everyday pressure on you. Thanks for taking the time to respond. I know you are swamped. Solstice Blessings and Healing Light, Elaine

  7. Just reading about your rituals helps me to feel more peaceful, Elaine.

    I hope to take a pause before the busy new year begins, also.

    Thank you.

    • Great, Lynne. It doesn’t take much to center myself or the whole family. Just a candle will do. I’m pausing now, because after Jan. 1, publishing deadlines begin.
      I ppreciate you, Lynne, and your creative powers.

  8. Thanks for sharing this beautiful ceremony Elaine, I wanted to do something like this before but I didn’t feel I was ‘doing it right’. I am learning a lot from you and in this post you have demonstrated that it isn’t something that I should have to do in a regimented way, just from the heart and the objects which ‘I feel’ are to be used. Thanks again for your wisdom, I do look forward to your blogs! P,S, Good for you, congrats today for finally joining twitter! 🙂

    • I’m a Twitter Woman now, D.G. Thanks for encouraging me. I think the power of personal ritual comes through doing what feels right and finding objects and images that speak to you. It doesn’t have to be about following rigid forms. My son Anthony is here (and helped me take the first baby steps with Twitter) and I will have our ritual tomorrow night before he returns to CA. I imagine it will be quite different from what happens when David and Liz are here. It’s always unique. Solstice blessings your way. You’ve had a big day, I imagine, with your book launch. I’ll check your website and find the best place to buy it for the author, that is, you.

  9. Eagerly anticipating celebrating Solstice with you! It just occurred to me that David and I made the mantelpiece in the primary living room an altar to Slovakia and all the loving and happy memories that evokes. The only “natural” thing on there is a gourd left over from earlier this autumn. I feel the urge to create another altar….and I know just the space and time for it. Remind me to tell you when we see you in just a couple of days! xoxo Liz

    • Looking forward to being with you and David, Liz. ( Please bring Rick, the personal chef. He’s what’s missing.) The energy is quiet here after an exciting 10 days. Our tradition of the family gathering here will be replaced by a simpler meal at Grandma’s apartment. I don’t mind doing something new.

      I’ll try to remind you to tell me about your new altar. Will you remind me to remind you? My mind is full of Twitter, Bitly, and expressing what my book is about in 175 words for catalog copy. Mind was already stuffed with FB, LinkedIn, and writing an epilogue. Good brain exercise.
      I love you, beautiful Liz.

  10. Elaine,
    These photos are a wonderful collage of joy, loss, and honoring the season. My mother, an atheist and (secret spiritual intuitive) always celebrated “Christmas” as a Pagan holiday. . .light and green in the middle of the dark. Thank you for this thoughtful, moving piece.

    • Kirsten, how sweet to find you here. I love your take on Christmas in LA. (I imagine a shirtless Santa riding along the Venice Beach path on a skateboard.) Light and green in the middle of the dark. You remember that desperate longing for light. But who needs the sun when you’re in LA. It lives there. Thanks and keep writing.

  11. Thanks, Elaine. That was just what I needed to remind myself of my options during this season. Cheers!

    • Thanks for your comment, Robin. Glad it helped. It’s a hard time for those of us who lost someone close. Our family tradition is further broken by my mother-in-law’s fall, but I don’t mine skipping the Christmas Eve dinner where we pretend we are celebrating but only miss Vic. I had a lovely solstice ritual with my son Anthony and plan another with my oldest son David and his wife who arrived last night. This is the most meaningful thing for me. And then I’ll likely have a ritual by myself out at Vic’s cairn on Christmas Day since everyone will be gone by Dec. 24.

  12. Elaine, we often forget it’s the pause that rejuvenates in our busy, busy culture. Thank you for this reminder. I woke up this morning with beautiful song lyrics in my mind, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me.” Of course, I recognized them as an old Nina Simone song…she was one of the greats! Those lyrics have been buoying my spirits all day. I decided to journal about their significance to me, as journaling is a special ritual practice that connects me to my inner self. Thank you for sharing your own ritual practices and your fabulous pictures, especially that one of Vic in the maple leaves. Heart, Jenna

    • Jenna, I look forward to reading whatever you make public. Lovely lyrics. For the last week, mine have been, “May the long time sun shine on you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you, guide your way home.” In 1979, when the Dalai Lama came to our meditation/philosophy center on his first visit to the US, he stayed with us for four days. He offered an opening ritual for our new library. He met with the children one morning. They sang “May the longtime sun shine on you” to him and then each child presented him with a flower, one at a time. He held hands or caressed each child, made contact, and made a bouquet of their flowers. Small rituals can be unforgettable.

      Writing is also a ritual for me, along with exploring dreams. Getting to know you a little is a treat.
      Sweet dreams,

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