We just celebrated the winter solstice here in Australia, and as I’ve been thinking a lot about how to create my own secular celebrations to mark the passing of time, I decided to craft my own solstice ritual this year.
There were a number of elements I wanted to incorporate, including a lovely, traditional solstice feast.
Being of European heritage in the Southern Hemisphere has always been a bit weird – all of our cultural celebrations are topsy-turvy from the actual climate (Christmas in summer, Easter in autumn, etc.).
I’ve always enjoyed celebration and ritual, but I want to move beyond these leftover remnants of religious culture and simultaneously go forward and backward.
Backward to when time was marked by celebrating the cycle of life, nature and the seasons.
Forward to what matters to me in my life and future – celebrations and rituals that fit with my secular worldview.
And so, here is my secular winter solstice ritual.
Before the Solstice
This is technically the end of the (solar) year and the beginning of the new, even though for us it’s the middle of the calendar year. The longest night heralds the slow return of the sun to the highest point in the sky and the longest days 6 months from now.
So! One thing a lot of people talked about was clearing out the old.
Whether that’s doing some deep cleaning, doing a candle ceremony to burn a list of things to let go of, whatever form you want it to take is fine.
I decided to do a bit of closet decluttering, so I now have a few more bags of recycle/donate/sell clothes plus a few things to repair or clean.
I love this idea of weaving in really practical tasks with seasonal rituals and making it a routine – because goodness knows this sort of thing piles up and never gets done otherwise!
On the Day
Solstice celebrations traditionally begin at sunset. So, my plan was to have a feast on the longest night.
Of course, we also had to light our fireplace to enjoy the fire as a symbol of the sun!
(And because our house gets bloody cold at night in winter – yay for poor insulation in old Queensland, wood floor houses.)
Some people do the tradition of burning a special yule log – which you carve or otherwise decorate. That’s not something I did this year, though I may try it in future.
I also had a candle burning as I cooked. Of course, it was an unscented one I made, because there were going to be enough great smells happening as I cooked!
Food is such a central part of celebration and ritual, especially when those celebrations are linked to the cycle of the seasons.
And man, do I love food. It’s one of the great pleasures in life!
Again, we live in the sub-tropics, so while we do have seasons, they aren’t as pronouced as those in temperate climates, but for now, I’m choosing to honour my European roots when it comes to choosing the food for each of the 4 yearly solstices/equinoxes.
I also wanted to incorporate oranges as much as I can, because we have a couple of orange trees on our property, bursting with fruit at this time of year – and they are, happily, a traditional yule ingredient.
I am not the cook of the household (amusing, considering my current personal project of cooking every country’s national dish) so making 6 recipes at once was kinda daunting… but I made a timing plan and just went for it.
The recipes I made for this year’s solstice feast were the following.
Let’s begin with our beverage.
Some form of alcohol is traditional at celebrations, and wassail is a classic for yule.
Nick doesn’t drink, so I made his with regular apple juice, and mine with apple cider, hence the 2 saucepans!
I wanted a bread to go with my soup, and when I found this recipe, I thought it was lovely, how the bread actually looks like the sun!
Super-easy (apart from 10 minutes of kneading) and lovely to dunk in soup.
Pork is a tradional ingredient in winter/yule cooking.
This is a deceptively simple but delicious pie.
I made a pot pie to cut out the additional step of making shortcrust pasty (and the additional calories!) so I used puff pastry on top.
Also, Nick HATES celery – he claims that the smallest skerrick can destroy a dish, so I replace the celery in this pie with green apple, and it worked beautifully.
Sun King Soup
This was delicious!
I used tinned tomatoes, which worked perfectly.
Brussel Sprouts, Bacon & Orange
We’ve actually had this before, finding it a previous year when looking for what to do with all the oranges on our trees!
It’s a nice way to dress up brussel sprouts, for sure.
This was amazing! A very traditional yule dessert, which I have never had before.
I chose this recipe after looking at a number of them, and I’m so glad I did.
The easy chocolate ganache, the marscapone in the filling, the egg whites to make fluffy batter *chefs kiss* this is a total winner.
Nick doesn’t even usually like chocolate cake, but because this was REAL chocolate (cocoa powder, Cadbury’s old gold & a flake in the ganache) he gave it 2 thumbs up.
She also explains how to make the lovely sugared cranberries and rosemary (which was also from out garden), and they were a lovely and simple addition to make it look super fancy.
Of course, the solstice starts at sunset, and continues to the next day – so the next part of my ritual was to greet the dawn at sunrise.
I drove down to a favourite spot, and I had it all to myself for most of the sunrise!
The blessing of living on a very long stretch of accessible coastline.
It was about 8 degrees C when I left the house, so I made sure to take lots of layers, as well as a hot thermos of herbal tea.
I sat, watching the pre-dawn, and when the sun started to rise, I took out my notebook.
I wrote down 3 things I want to let go of in the new year, and 3 things I want to focus on bringing to life.
Afterwards, I walked for about 2 hours along my favourite local walk – the coastal pathway from Moffat Beach to Bulcock Beach.
If you ever visit the Sunshine Coast, you must do this walk – it is stunning!
Here is a little moment on the boardwalk near King’s Beach.
Of course, my new year ritual wouldn’t be complete without throwing myself in the ocean, which I did after my walk.
Wearing my wetsuit, of course!
I had a leisurely swim and enjoyed having the water all to myself.
Most Queenslanders wouldn’t be caught dead in the ocean in the middle of winter, except for the actual swimmers like myself.
But there’s nothing like greeting the year by suspending yourself in the ocean while the winter sun warms you.
I finished by buying a winter flowering plant to add to my collection, this lovely cyclamen.
I like this way of ending the celebration – adding a plant to nurture through the new year!
And that is my own personal winter solstice ritual – for this year, at least.
The only thing I’d change next time right now is spending a little more time on the decluttering before the solstice. Perhaps starting a week or so beforehand so I had more time to get more done.
Please take from it what you will!
If you do plan to incorporate any of this in your own secular solstice ritual, let me know in the comments below.