The holiday season, though merry and bright, is infamous for being a tad chaotic. Busy travel schedules mixed with end-of-year work deadlines plus a sea of social gatherings can make it difficult to remain present and calm. Interestingly enough, the winter solstice (also the first day of winter) occurs during this flurry of movement and, with it, brings the opportunity to slow down and reflect. For the northern hemisphere, winter solstice will take place on December 21 and it is the ‘shortest’ day of the year — meaning, the day with the fewest hours of sunlight. Once this happens, days begin growing longer until summer solstice occurs (the ‘longest’ day of the year and first day of summer).
So why can this be an important day for turning inward? The winter solstice takes place when the hemisphere is tilted as far away from the sun as possible; it signals a shift in season and the opportunity to make any internal shifts you might be in need of. Whether it’s sitting down to journal, setting goals for the new year, or gathering fresh produce and crafting a nourishing meal, there are several diverse ways for making the most of winter solstice. Ahead, seven experts share their ideas.
Savor Fresh Bounty
Ever since Melanie Masarin launched her non-alcoholic beverage brand Ghia in 2020, the conversation around mindful drinking has been on the rise. For winter solstice, Masarin points to a mocktail using fresh ingredients as a thoughtful way to greet the shift. “As the days get shorter but work slows down somewhat, I like to spend time in the kitchen doing small things that will keep me warm and fueled this winter,” she says. “The first lemons have ripened on my tree, and I immediately cured them — two jars in lemon and two jars of olive oil.”
She’ll use these throughout winter in roasted or braised dishes, as well as in beverages. “I also like to steep a large pot of ginger that I can reheat through the week as tea, either with a squeeze of lemon in the morning or a splash of Ghia and clove as a mule when the sun sets.” She also suggests translating fresh goods into your other senses, like sight and smell. “I make pommes d’ambres: oranges piqued with cloves that I hang on doorknobs to make the house smell good and festive, even though I skipped the Christmas tree.”
Set Powerful Intentions For 2023
Winter solstice occurs just before the new year begins, which means it’s the perfect day to focus your mind on the present and future. “This winter solstice will be activating our inner pioneering spirit. As the sun moves into the zodiac sign of Capricorn on this day, we are invited to choose which mountain we want to climb next,” Cosmic Queen founder Rachel Onojafe says. “Tap into your inner desires and set powerful intentions for the top three courageous things you want to do in 2023. And, in true Capricorn fashion, write down the first action you will take for each one. Intention + Action = Magic!”
Slow Down With Meditation & Journaling
The winter solstice offers the opportunity to zoom out and look at the bigger picture, and for Sage + Sound meditation teacher Courtney Clifford, it invites certain types of rituals. “Take time to reflect on the past 12 months, I like to start this off by clearing the mind with breath work meditation followed by journaling,” she says. “Sit in an easy pose with a straight spine. Eyes closed, take a deep inhale through the nose for five counts expanding the stomach, hold the breath to full capacity, and deeply exhale out of the mouth releasing any tension. Eyes remaining closed, begin breathing in the nose for five counts, holding for five counts, and exhaling through the nose for five counts, continue this cycle of breathing for five minutes.” Once you’ve completed your winter solstice meditation, she advises pulling out your journal and answering the following questions.
- In what ways have you been expanded this year?
- How did you face challenges that arose?
- What did you learn most about yourself this year?
- What do you currently need to make space for in your life?
- What would you like to call into your life in 2023?
- What would you need to shift in mind, body, and spirit to call it in?
Connect With Your Body
“The winter solstice is both the darkest moment of the year and the return of the light. Holding these two attitudes simultaneously helps us recognize that in the darkest of times, the potentiality of light will undoubtedly arise,” Rima Rabbath says, founder of NYC yoga studio Souk. “One way to mindfully spend the winter solstice is to participate in physical activity that allows you to connect with your body and the changing season — this could be through an intentional yoga practice at home or for a more powerful practice, at your local studio.”
She points to a few key positions for the solstice. “Sun Salutations or Surya Namaskar were traditionally practiced facing the east where the sun rises. Sun Salutations are a rhythmic, breath-based, repetitive series of movements facing one direction (in the sagittal plane) that create heat in the body and honor the sun, the source of light,” Rabbath says. "By taking part in a physical activity like yoga during the solstice, you can facilitate an alignment between your mind, body, and the natural world around you.”
Also, Move Your Body
Winter’s cold temperatures and early nightfalls can make it difficult to stay active, but Doctor of General Preventive Medicine and Co-Founder of Boom Home Medical Dr. Valerie Ulene says it’s vital to stay active, and to use the solstice as an opportunity to kickstart the coming months. “It’s important for everyone — young and old alike — to keep their bodies moving all year long. To reap the benefits of physical activity, which include everything from sharper thinking to improved sleep, exercise shouldn’t ebb and flow with the seasons,” she says. “During winter months, there are a number of things you can do to help keep it going. If you don’t belong to a gym, consider joining one for a few months until things warm up. Or bring the gym home by purchasing some basic fitness equipment.”
If none of that appeals, keep it simple. “Turn on some music and dance around your living room or, if you live in a multi-level home or building, challenge yourself to a bit of stair-climbing,” Ulene adds. “Unless you really hate the cold however, I’d encourage you to embrace the change of weather, bundle up and take walks outdoors. Once you start moving, you’ll probably be surprised by how quickly the cold doesn’t seem so cold.”
Cook A Hearty Meal
Arguably one of the best ways to spend winter solstice is with a few self-care rituals at home, like cooking. “Winter is a grounding season, so I would lean into that by focusing on hearty meals, like soups and stews, adding in warm spices like ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon, where you can, getting cozy with comfortable clothes, an early bedtime to match the shorter days, and perhaps throwing some spicy and warm essential oils, like rosemary, eucalyptus, or cedar, into a diffuser,” Mia Rigden says. The board-certified nutritionist and author of Foodwise points to a warming Jazzy Carrot and Parsnip Soup (her recipe is included below) as the perfect solstice recipe.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
- 1 medium yellow onion, roughly cropped
- 1-inch piece fresh ginger, roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 6 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces, tops reserved for garnish
- 3 medium-size parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 5 cups bone broth
- 1 cup coconut-milk, plus more for garnish
- Sea salt, to taste
- Sacha inchi seed or toasted almonds, for garnish
- In a medium or large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the onion, ginger, and garlic, and saute until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- Add the cumin and tumeric, then the carrots and parsnips, and cook, stirring, for a few minutes more.
- Pour in the bone broth and coconut milk, and bring to a simmer. Cook, covered, at a simmer, for about 20 minutes, or until carrots and parsnips are extremely tender.
- Use a hand blender or transfer contents to a high-speed blender and blend until smooth.
- Season with salt as desired. Serve with a drizzle of coconut milk and olive oil. Garnish with carrot top greens and sacha inchi seeds or toasted almonds.
Switch To Natural Light Sources
Simple shifts in your environment can make a powerful impact on a day like winter solstice. “As much as I look forward to the flowers in spring and the endless sun of summer, it’s actually in the wintertime where I give my body the gift it needs most — rest,” American in Provence author Jamie Beck says. “I align my days and energy with the rise and fall of light, and when the sun sets on our late afternoons, I let my body give into the fireside nights, allowing my body to slow down and do its silent winter sowing.”