Be part of pagan traditions at the Winter Solstice celebration

Dec 19, 2013

The 2001 Winter Solstice altar at People's Church in Kalamazoo
Credit courtesy of Diane Melvin

Saturday is the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. To celebrate, People’s Church of Kalamazoo will do a solstice ritual based on pagan traditions. The event is Friday night at 7 p.m., with a potluck at 6 p.m.

Diane Melvin is the religion education director at People’s Church. She says having gradually longer days might not sound like cause for a celebration, but it was if you didn’t have electricity. 

A decorated tree is part of winter celebrations for both Christians and pagans alike. In the background, you can see banners representing the cardinal directions in the pagan faith.
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

“Because you only had candle light or fire light for the darkness. And if it gets dark like here at 5 o’clock at night and it’s dark for a solid 12 hours, that’s a lot of time to try to do anything by candle light and fire light. So, the celebration of the return of daylight of the sunlight was definitely reason to celebrate. But also I think it symbolizes something deeper within our own hearts of…what are we willing to let go of in our lives in this time of darkness and what do we want to bring in to nourish.”

At the ritual, there will be readings, carols, and an altar with objects that represent the compass directions and their elements in the pagan faith. Melvin remembers the first solstice altar she made at People’s Church:

“One whole quarter of it was seashells which represented the West and water. And one whole portion of it was pine cones, which represented the earth and the North," she says. "And one whole quadrant of it was feathers, which represented the East and air. Another whole quadrant of it was…what did I have for fire? First, the South is fire and I think I had snake skins and rocks mixed in it.” 

Michele Richards with her daughters Rowan Renstrom-Richards and Sage Renstrom-Richards at the first solstice ritual at People's Church in 2001. Emerald Haan and Cassidy Haan are in the foreground.
Credit courtesy of Diane Melvin

Music is often a part of solstice celebrations. Melvin says there will be a drum circle, but anyone is welcome to bring an instrument.

“We have these shaker eggs," Melvin says. "So each of the kids will get an opportunity to have an egg. And when we sing the pagan Christmas carols, they can shake till their hearts content.”

Later on tonight, people can write down things they want to leave behind in their lives and toss the paper into a bonfire outside the church. Melvin shared something she wants to let go of and what she wants to hold on to this season.

“When things don’t go the way I want them to go, sometimes I get attached to my own ideas of how life should be. And I would like to release that attachment. So that I can be more flexible and more loving and more present with life the way that it is and people the way they are on their path. And not try to change them to be the way I want them to be. So I think my releasing would be around how to be in the world with more flexibility and loving kindness.”

People’s Church in Kalamazoo is holding a Winter Solstice ritual tonight at 7 p.m. There will be a potluck before the ritual at 6 p.m.

Music clips for this story: "Deck the Halls" from Lifescape Christmas Celtic and "The Earth, The Air, The Fire, The Water" by Libana