Tag Archives: Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice Ottawa – Update & Appeal

My last post shared my annoyance that a sub-committee at work used “Celebrate the Winter Solstice” to advertise a film screening having nothing whatsoever to do with the solstice. I’m pleased to report that a few e-mails and a phone conversation, expressing my conviction that a true solstice celebration would focus on the seasonal event and be an actual form of celebration, have produced some positive results –

I was asked for ideas and assistance in helping the group to host a more relevant Winter Solstice Celebration in future years!

So now I need to get busy with some ideas, bearing in mind that it’s a workplace event and likely confined to the lunch hour, however, the invitation will extend to roughly 5,000 employees! I’ll let you know how things develop …

But, back to the wider Ottawa community:

Judging by my blog hits over the past few weeks, many people in Ottawa are seeking a way to celebrate the solstice but, at this time, our community offers little in providing a way for people to come together to celebrate this event.

It’s up to those of us who want a community event to make it happen in future years …

How about a lantern procession to light up the darkest night, with workshops in preceding weeks, at various public locations, so people can make a unique and colourful lantern for solstice night?

The lantern procession – maybe along Somerset West and Preston, with access from all directions – Chinatown, Wellington West, Carling Avenue and the transitway at Scott Street – and ending at Plouffe Park, adjacent to the Plant Bath, on Preston, or perhaps greenspace at Dow’s Lake?

Maybe some mummers, drummers, fire-eaters or who-knows-what to liven things up?

People could fan out afterward to continue their celebration at a wide array of nearby restaurants and bars or at private celebrations elsewhere.

A key aspect would be to keep it in the hands of the people – city involvement that of helpful assistance only – with universal determination of planners and participants that it be free, distinct from competing holiday events and devoid of commerciality.

What would you like to see as a solstice celebration in Ottawa? Or wherever you are?
Care to collaborate on a 2011 event?
Leave a comment!

Winter Solstice Hijacked

Winter Solstice has become the main focus of the holiday season for me, though it seems to go largely unnoticed here in Ottawa. I envy the celebrations that take place in Toronto and Vancouver and live in hope that something of a similar nature will take root in our fair city. There are some small events that occur here but the pickings are just a wee bit on the slim side. I posted the ones I’m aware of on this site a few weeks ago and I thought I had a new one …

I was somewhat excited when yesterday’s inbox at work (a large organization of several thousand employees) turned up an invite from an in-house committee, addressed to all staff, to Celebrate the Winter Solstice!

Closer inspection revealed it as nothing more than solicitation to come out at lunch next week to view some films geared to raise awareness of this group’s political agenda. Fair enough – people might well be interested. But to present it as a way to celebrate solstice was misleading and opportunistic.

I replied, asking for an explanation as to why the invitation was considered a solstice celebration. There was no response by the end of the day. I hope it materializes – I’d love to see an explanation.
(For an UPDATE on this issue, see my December 20 post!)

. . .

I tried to initiate a neighbourhood solstice event a few years back, making lanterns and recruiting a small group of family, friends and neighbours to make some noise and light up the night in an outdoor lantern procession, followed by an indoor party. My hope was that, while starting small, it would grow in future years and gain in popularity. The party rocked but the outdoor procession fell a bit flat and seemed … just dorky. It definitely needed to be larger-scale to work. I did not repeat the exercise.

I haven’t given up but I’m a bit stuck on how to get Ottawa celebrating – ideas are welcome!

A World Wide Winter Solstice Celebration – Imagine …

Recent media commemoration of the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death brought to mind the lyrics of his signature song, ‘Imagine’, and when they collided in my head with thoughts of the upcoming Winter Solstice, I did imagine …

Winter Solstice – a perfect opportunity not only to revive celebrating the return of the sun, as was once done in almost all civilizations, but to build on it and come together on that day – everywhere, everyone – in a spirit of peace, tolerance and togetherness. Where “the world will be as one”. (Southern hemisphere, see note below)

Judging from the number of hits I’ve had on a recent post about upcoming solstice events in my area, interest in solstice celebration is there; but the celebration isn’t … yet.

At a time of year that can be tough – the dark, the cold, the overblown commercialization, the pressures of the Season, the intrusiveness of it for non-celebrants – why not share in a celebration that everyone on the planet can be a part of? Imagine everyone, everywhere, pushing aside their worries, troubles and differences to celebrate the same thing, all together, at the same time!


To borrow loosely from those lyrics again, some may say I’m a dreamer but I hope I’m not the only one.
I hope you’ll join me in a sort of a grassroots movement and simply do something, anything, on that day, to observe the fact that it is the solstice. Anything, no matter how big or small – just something happy and joyful, sharing it too, if you can.

If you’re lucky enough to live where Winter Solstice celebrations already exist, join in. Most existing celebrations are centred around lighting the night and incorporate lantern processions, torch-bearing and bonfires.

If there’s nothing in your area, start something. Light a candle. Make a lantern. Have friends in. Go out for dinner. Gather at the local pub. Host a potluck. Wassail the apple trees. Have a bonfire. Make music!

The beauty is that there’s no set tradition – you’re free to create your own.

A few guidelines come to mind though:

1. Make it separate and distinctive – not just an extension of other celebrations that occur near this time.
2. Keep things easy, simple, inexpensive.
3. In the spirit of togetherness, cooperation and consideration for others, harm or offend no one as you make some noise and have some fun!

So, join me in doing something to celebrate on that day, but also:

SHARE this idea with family, friends and neighbours, so it spreads.

With enough people celebrating, starting just after sunset in their time zone, it would flow in a World-as-One wave of light, hope and peace around the globe.

Imagine …

NOTE: The December solstice is the longest day of sunlight – Summer Solstice – in the Southern hemisphere. But that’s just another great reason to celebrate – in fact, why not a World-as-One celebration of light, hope and peace twice a year, on everyone’s shortest and longest days?

Upcoming 2010 Winter Solstice Events in Ottawa

My focus in the past few years has shifted from Christmas to the Winter Solstice. Consequently, here’s a list of various Winter Solstice events that will take place over the next few weeks here in the Ottawa area. This year’s Winter Solstice is a special one too, with a full eclipse of the full moon taking place in the early hours of December 21st!

If you know of any public Solstice events in the region, in addition to those I’ve listed below, feel free to provide the details in a comment. And if you have an interest in furthering Winter Solstice celebrations in and around Ottawa, you might wish to join the Facebook group Winter Solstice Ottawa and comment there as well.

Whether from the following list or elsewhere, I hope you’ll find a fun way to enjoy and appreciate Winter Solstice this year.

Author’s update: Wish there was more on offer in the Ottawa area? Please see my Dec. 11 and Dec. 20 posts.

SLOWest Winter Solstice Community Gathering

When: December 9, 2010, 6 PM to 9 PM
Where: First United/All Saints Anglican Church, 347 Richmond Rd.
Phone: 613-721-9200
Event info: http://sustainableottawawest.ning.com/events/the-slowest-winter-solstice

Join SLOWest on Thursday evening, December 9th for a Solstice Community Gathering. The aim is to align main community gatherings with key seasonal moments like the Winter Solstice but things are just too busy for folks in later December – hence the somewhat advanced date.

Things begin with a pot luck dinner. Feature of the evening will be a video presentation of some of Paul Hawken’s (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Hawken ) recent talks on the emerging global social/environmental movement which he sees as ‘our species’ immune system response’.

Stonehenge’s Seasons of the Sun

When: Fri, 10 December 2010, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Where: Canada Science and Technology Museum, 1867 St. Laurent Blvd.
Event info: http://www.sciencetech.technomuses.ca/english/whatson/astronomy-programs.cfm

What is a solstice? The ancient Druids knew, and so will you when you make your own seasonal model of the famous circle of stones known as Stonehenge.
Curious about space and astronomy? These hands-on workshops feature a new craft activity each month that encourages exploration of Science and Astronomy, complemented by either a guided tour of the heavens in the inflatable planetarium, a visit to the Canada in Space exhibition, or a visit to the Helen Sawyer Hogg Observatory (weather permitting).

Winter Solstice Celebration of Light!

When: Sunday, December 19, 2010, 6:00 PM
Where: PranaShanti Yoga Centre, 52 Armstrong St.
Cost: 22$ per person. All proceeds donated to the Food Bank.
Phone: 613-761-9642
Event info: info@pranashanti.com

Join PranaShanti owner, Devinder Kaur, and friends from different spiritual and devotional paths for a Winter Solstice Celebration to welcome the light! Warming spiced mulled apple juice and a special Winter Solstice dessert buffet with decadent chocolate fountain, fresh fruit and holiday treats served afterwards.

Winter Solstice
When: Tuesday, December 21, 2010, 10AM – 4PM
Where: Canada Science and Technology Museum, 1867 St. Laurent Blvd.
Cost: Museum admission applies
Event Info: http://sciencetech.technomuses.ca

Celebrate the shortest day of the year with indoor and outdoor activities that the whole family will enjoy at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Winter Solstice Stargazing

When: Tue, 21 December, 7:00PM – 8:30PM
Where: Canada Science and Technology Museum, 1867 St. Laurent Blvd.
Cost: free
Event Info: http://www.sciencetech.technomuses.ca/english/whatson/astronomy-programs.cfm

View the night sky from the Helen Sawyer Hogg Observatory. Strictly weather-permitting (no indoor presentations). Dress warmly.

Oh, the weather outside …

Winter has arrived.
Pretty, but crazy!
And slippery!!

The snow started last night and fell heavily for most of yesterday with high winds that had the snow streaking horizontally instead of actually falling.
I’m not sure exactly how much has fallen and I don’t think it’s done yet.

But we’ve actually had a long autumn, given that we tend to measure it according to how early or late the snow arrives here in Ottawa.

It makes little sense to me that Winter Solstice is billed as the official start of winter and it’s interesting to note that the solstice was termed Midwinter by the Pagans/Celts/Old English or whatever you care to call them, who considered Halloween, or Samhain, the beginning of winter.

Even though they fit the European seasons with slightly more precision than they do ours, the eight nature-based divisions of the pagan wheel of the year form a natural rhythm to seasonal progression that I find very appealing.

(No, I’m not Pagan or Wiccan, but I appreciate some of their earth-centric elements.)

This is the season in which it feels natural to me, once the snow arrives, to slow life down a bit – a time for quiet reflection, a time to enjoy family and friends and, in a few more weeks, to celebrate the return of the sun and the beginning of a new year.

And most of what seems natural is in total conflict with what many of us end up doing at this time of year – too bad.

A herd of Julbocken!

Flock of Bocken (OK, herd, but flock sounded better)

About a year ago, I read about these Scandinavian julbocken (the plural form of julbock) and immediately wanted one. Never having seen one here in Canada though, I didn’t think it would happen.

Then, a few days ago I walked into IKEA … and stumbled upon an entire crate of them – and, like most things IKEA, the price was right. I immediately bought two as they’ll make great Winter Solstice decorations. And yesterday I went back for more!

I’m only keeping two of them though; one, I picked up for someone at work and another will also be going to work with me but won’t be coming home again. You’ll just have to check back to hear why, which I’ll explain it sometime soon …

Anyway, here’s what they’re all about:

The Yule Goat is one of the oldest Scandinavian and northern European Yule traditions and is a customary decoration or gift in Scandinavian homes.

In Sweden it is known as a Julbock, in Norway, a Julebukk (Yule Buck) and in Finland, an Olkipukki (Straw Buck). They are made from braided straw and wheat ears and are bound with red ribbons.

The Yule Goat derives from the ancient Norse legend of Thor/Odin/Ukko, the God of Thunder, who rode across wintry skies in a chariot drawn by two goats.

In earlier times the Yule Goat was burned as a sacrifice to Thor. In more recent times, a popular prank was to place the Yule Goat in a neighbor’s house without them noticing; the family successfully pranked had to get rid of it in the same way. Nowadays the purely decorative Julbock/Olkipukki is often placed near gifts to protect them.

… and that’s all well and good but I just love the way they look! Especially all four of them together. Hmmm.

And so this is … or is it?

So here we are, once again well into that Greatest ‘Pre-Season’ of Them All.

You know the one – it shows up earlier each year and is unavoidable in shopping malls and retail outlets everywhere. Even at home, we’re assaulted whenever we turn on the television. There’s no escaping it – Christmas is Coming … let the shopping begin!

I saw my first Christmas tree in September. By our Canadian Thanksgiving in the second week of October, more signs had surfaced. By Halloween Week, with both Halloween and Christmas stuff to choose from everywhere, I could be pagan or Christian … or better, from a commercial perspective – I could be both!

Sometime in the last ten years, the advent of the season I used to love slowly shifted to a time of resentment and malaise that hit earlier, and harder, with each successive year. The relentlessly expanding commercial crush of Christmas had me working harder and harder to play Santa while feeling increasingly more like Scrooge.

As my distaste for the season grew, my reaction during the Christmas advent was, at first, a renewed focus on the ‘Reason for the Season’ as it’s often so annoyingly labelled. But a funny thing happened – delving more into the origins of Christmas, its Christian aspects gradually ceased to hold significance for me. I was drawn instead toward its natural, pre-Christian roots …

Winter Solstice!

The shortest day of the year, which marks the return of the sun, has been celebrated through the ages by a wide variety of cultures all around the globe. Both ancient Europeans and Native Americans had winter solstice rites. So did Iran, Pakistan, Tibet and China, to name just a few. Many of these celebrations continue today.

Winter Solstice can be celebrated by anyone, regardless of religion (or lack thereof). Modern celebrations might well include familiar elements of an old-fashioned Christmas – the tree, holly and ivy, the red-and-green, a Yule log – because many of these things originated from pre-Christian celebrations. But they can be completely different too, open to individual interpretation and practice. If religious, include that element. If not, leave it out. Simple!

The only thing missing from a Winter Solstice celebration is the irksome and unrelenting commercial aspect that few would miss and whose absence most would welcome.

One of the more notable solstice celebrations is the crowds that gather each year at the Celtic site of Newgrange in Ireland to observe the sunrise between the 19th and the 23rd of December. At dawn, a shaft of sunlight shines through the roof box over the entrance, penetrates the passage and lights up the chamber, an event that lasts 17 minutes.

Festivals on the eve or night of the Winter Solstice are taking hold in many cities and they’re growing each year. Here in Canada, there are large outdoor street celebrations in Vancouver and Toronto (Kensington Market).

And when it’s Winter Solstice in one hemisphere, it’s Summer Solstice in the other – a whole other reason to celebrate!

Whether celebrated as well as, or instead of, Christmas, what a perfect opportunity for the world to put aside divisive beliefs and come together to celebrate as one.

As someone very famous once sang, Imagine!

Though you’d be hard-pressed to tell from looking at my holiday decorations, I no longer celebrate Christmas – it’s Winter Solstice for me. I haven’t yet moved completely past the commercial obligations of the season due to the expectations that our society has firmly embedded in my children (for whom it’s still Christmas) but I’m making progress. I feel much more at peace with the season since I’ve shifted to celebrating the return of the light.

And, echoing that famous song once more, I hope someday you’ll join me …