Celebrating the longest night

seal harbor beach

Winter sun over Seal Harbor

Winter solstice, with 15 hours and 13 minutes of darkness, can make you sigh at Maine’s long winter and flick on another light, or use it as an excuse for a little celebrating.

Since it is a once a year occurrence, I am on the side of celebration. This is also a traditional approach, as many cultures celebrated the solstice and the beginning of longer days. On Saturday, December 21 the sun will be setting here at 3:55pm, and in less than two weeks it is setting at a 4:04pm, that is about nine precious minutes of evening light. Admittedly, since the sun continues to rise a bit later each day, we do have not nine more minutes of daylight, but why quibble? Simply cherish each additional bit of light at the end of the day. With the shortest day weighing in at just eight hours and 47 minutes, many of us do not get much time to be outdoors in the light. We head to work in the dark, come home in the dark, or both.

The solstice seems to pass unnoticed for most people. Its louder big sister, Christmas, and flamboyant cousin, New Year’s, steal the limelight. But the solstice, which literally means sun standing still, is an opportunity to do just that, stand still. The word “solstice” originates from the Latin word solstitium, sol for sun stit for remain or stand, and so “sun standing still.”

Taking the time to acknowledge this shift in the season is reflective rather than festive, and a way to take a deep breath and slow down.

There are many simple ways to give honor to this day.

  1. Watch the sun rise and watch the sun set. If you are at home, mark where it comes up. Maybe even tie a ribbon around a branch to mark the place. You can do the same when it sets. This is as far south as the sun will travel. During the next six months take the time now and then to watch sunrise and sunset again. It will very quickly move away from that ribbon marker.
  2. Candles. Not that we need any excuse for candles, but each candle symbolizes the sun, round and yellow candles would be fun, but any candles will do. Like them in solidarity as the sun’s light will start to increase.
  3. Bonfire. See 2 above. (We need no excuse, and flames symbolize sun) Traditionally, a piece of the yule log was saved to help ignite the next winter’s yule log. Yule, which has come to mean Christmas time, is the eleven days after winter solstice. A yule log can be a large trunk or tree, chosen because it will burn a long time on this, the longest night of the year.
  4. Silence. As you watch the sun rise on our shortest day, or watch the sun set bringing on our longest night, do it in silence. Hold hands if you wish, but stop chat, pause the songs, and give your full attention to the changing light. Reflect, resolve, or focus on the sky, your thoughts belong to only you. Shhhh.
  5. Share food. See 2 and 3 above. We need no excuse for a picnic, but a solstice picnic with candles is pretty nice.

Celebrating winter solstice with fire and ice

So, the light is growing, but winter is just getting started. The adage goes “as the days lengthen the cold strengthens.” This is yet another reason to celebrate the solstice. It assures us that snow, single-digit cold, beautiful ice, and frigid refreshing air is upon us. I live for this season.

I seek solstice celebrations every year, sometimes I find them, sometimes not. This year I am toasting sunrise with spicy tea, picnicking on a hill overlooking a harbor as the sun sets, then going to a bonfire, and walking a breakwater before the following dawn. Two sunrises and a sunset–my cup is full!

If you wish to celebrate this year’s solstice there are a few local offerings below.

Or, just light a candle. This lovely holiday makes no demands and does not need gift wrapping.

Take a deep breath, and happy solstice.

The Night Tree: Annual Winter Solstice Celebration at Fields Pond

The Night Tree: Annual Winter Solstice Celebration at Fields Pond

sears islandSears Island ‘Solstice by the Sea: A Celebration of Light’

Solstice by the Sea: A Celebration of Light


Karen O. Zimmermann

About Karen O. Zimmermann

Karen O. Zimmermann savors chance encounters with people throughout the state of Maine, and is endlessly delighted with the tales they have to share.