My ancestors are the forest people of central Europe. I come from the Slavic tribes. This is my second Winter on the Southern hemisphere – in Australia. And I still cannot get my head around the fact, that Australian Winter solstice is celebrated in June.
For our ancestors, Winter solstice was a day to celebrate the return of the Sun. Nearly every ancient culture had myths surrounding the return of light and acknowledged the day with rituals and traditions. In Europe of these days, the celebrations of Winter solstice are shadowed by Christmas. (It is argued that the Church selected this time of the year to celebrate Christ’s birth to offset pagan celebrations of Nature.) Whether you celebrate Winter solstice or Christmas, there is always a lot going on in Europe in Decemeber.
On the contrary, Australian Winter solstice (in June) passes without much of a notice. Even though it is “the time” for Christmas-like celebrations. In Tasmania, the welcoming celebration of Winter solstice comes with the Dark Mofo festival and I am very grateful for having it around. However, even if you are not in Hobart on 21st June to jump in the ocean with other Dark Mofo participants, you can mark this special occasion by yourself.
I put together a list of easy ways how to acknowledge the Australian Winter solstice. Since we live distracted from our natural cycles (ever more apparent in Winter when artificial lights allow us to continue living as if Winter was not happening), my celebration tips are an invitation of re-connecting with nature and honoring the power of plants.
1. Drink a cup of herbal tea
Nothing is more satisfying during a cold day than sipping on a cup of hot herbal tea. Herbal mixtures can be blended to fit your state of the mind and/or body. If you need a little immunity boost, consider elder (Sambucus nigra) or echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) tea. To improve your digestion, make yourself a chamomile (Chamomila recutita) and mint (Mentha piperita) mixture. If you want to simply relax, a blend of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), lavender (Lavandula officinalis) and chamomile will be a bliss.
The ceremony of making a herbal tea can be very calming itself: place a spoonful of your selected herbal mixture into a cup, pour-over freshly boiled water, enclose the cup with a saucer and let the herbs steep, strain after 10-15 minutes, sit down and slowly drink your tea.
2. Use natural herbal products
The world is slowly replacing synthetic chemistry-based with natural products. Today is the day to use that chamomile salve on your lips, to moisturize you face with a herbal oil or clean your kitchen with a green product.
3. Bow to a tree
Take the time today and make a conscious effort to notice a tree growing in your surroundings. We are living on a sacred land that has been guarded for thousands of years by Aboriginal Australians. It is about time we pay attention to that land and show it some respect. It can start with as little as an inner Hello to a tree. You know, the one eucalypt you are passing everyday on the way to work. Maybe it is today you notice how unusually its branches fork or that its started to flower.
4. Notice the native flora
The plants are resting during Winter in Europe and you can hardly see any flowering species. The plant symbols of Winter solstice are the evergreens – trees such as pine (Pinus sp.) or herbs such as rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). Mistletoe (Viscum album) and yew (Taxus baccata) have also played important roles in the symbolism of Winter solstice.
Native flora of Australia is very different from European plants. For example, plenty of plants in flower in this time of the year in Australia, and even in the colder climates of Tasmania. Try to notice them on the Winter solstice. They can become your symbol of the returning Sun, the symbol of the Australian Winter solstice. To give you a little inspiration: Enjoy standing underneath the beautiful yellow flowers of wattles (Accacia sp.). You can immerse your sight in the pink sea of common heath (Epacris impressa). Or notice the tiny pink flowers of sheoaks (Allocasuarina sp.) that start to appear on some of the female sheoak trees.
5. Walk barefoot on grass
Living on Bruny Island, there is no excuse really for not stepping on the grass every day. And it should not be that difficult in the rest of Tasmania either. Even you, people of Melbourne and Sydney, can as little as caress a little bunch of grass when you go to pick up you children from school. Enjoy a little barefoot walk with them: a great occasion to explain to them what Winter solstice stands for.
6. Look at the Moon and mark its phase
Solstices are special events of the Solar calendar. Take your time on the 21st June and look at the Moon, too. When was the last time you knew it was full?
7. Light a candle or a wood fire
Winter solstice is a celebration of the Sun’s return and marks the beginning of Winter. It is the shortest day and longest night of the year. In Europe, there are candles galore in every house during December. If that is not the case in yours, make an exception today.
8. Make a nourishing meal from plants
In the ancient times, Winter was the time of famine. Nature was “asleep” and food supplies were short. With food abundance throughout the year, we don’t have this problem in Australia or Europe these days (quite the opposite, in fact). Take the advantage of it tonight and prepare a nourishing meal for dinner. Tasmanians are a nation of gardeners – go for the pickled beetroot or zucchinis you prepared in Summer. And if you do not have your own, get a local supply of fresh vegetables and dish up a nutritious dinner, city dwellers.
9. Contemplate with your friends or family on the Australian Winter solstice
Enjoy the cup of herbal tea or dinner with friends or family. Winter solstice was always celebrated in groups. Social interaction increases our mental ability to deal with the darkness.
10. Contemplate through a meditation practice
Is there no-one around who you could share a meal with on Winter solstice? Is there nobody to talk to and contemplate with? Try to sit still with your own thoughts for a while and acknowledge the nature around and within.