When dark has taken over (around 5:30) our ritual begins. We step outside of the house and do few rounds of Expelling the Venom to clear our energies, and then we smudge each participant with sage as they re-enter the house. We gather in the living room in a circle around an altar with an evergreen wreath in the center. There are unlit candles set around the wreath, one for each person, waiting to be lit at the proper moment. The leader of the ritual gently strikes a gong, we take a few collective breaths together, and release a resonant toning of OM. We invite in the spirit of the elements/directions, including above, below, and within, to join our circle. Then there is a reading from a poetic text describing the nature of the season, and the purpose for our gathering. We then sit in a dark and silent meditation for about 15 minutes, contemplating that which we’d like to leave behind in the dark, and that which we’d like to bring forward into the light. (This process is much longer these days as the young people in our family are now adults and can manage that amount of stillness. If you have younger children in your circle, this time can be adjusted as necessary.)
When the leader indicates that the meditation is finished, we take turns going clockwise around the circle, each person having the opportunity to voice aloud that which they’d like to leave behind in the old year, and that which they’d like to see come to fruition in the new year. As they share their insights, they light the candle before them. Slowly, as each person puts flame to their candle, the room becomes lighter and lighter. When all the candles are lit, we cue a joyous song called Newgrange (from the CD called A Christmas Heritage, by a band called Newgrange) which sings about how the morning sun on the Winter Solstice lights up the inner chamber of the temple. (Any joyous light-related song will do.) While we sing along, we turn the Christmas tree and other twinkle-lights on, and light additional candles, gradually illuminating the house with festive cheer.
We then proceed to feast, which generally consists of a sunny golden soup, bread and yummy cheese, and a wintery salad. (Wine often figures prominently at this point in the evening.) Whilst the feasting ensues, people have the option of writing, on small pieces of paper, those things that came up for them during the meditation, and tying those slips of paper to the wreath that has been in the center of the circle. After dinner has been consumed, a fire is stoked in the fire pit in the back yard, we bundle up, and process in grand fashion, to lay the wreath on the Solstice fire. While the wreath burns, our intentions, prayers, and blessings are sent up with the smoke, and we sing, caroling the neighbors with songs – Christmassy and otherwise