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Yule Blessings from the Tropics

Preparing for Christmas in Penang, solstice reflections on the longest & shortest day of the year 2023 & a Yule writing ritual

Post solo wild swim tea by the River Tweed, Scottish Borders. Reflecting a solstice sky, photo taken in the winter lockdown of 2020 by the author, Fiona Morris

Solstice blessings, my friend!

I’m writing this on one of two days of the year that the “Sun Stands Still”, reaching its highest or lowest point in the sky depending on your location on Earth. The solstice marks a shift in the sun’s illuminatory trajectory, and simultaneously, the world’s longest and shortest day.

Being a Eurasian woman of mixed race, with my blended and far flung families distributed across Europe, Asia, Australasia and North America, I’m well aware that “there are two sides to every coin”.

That saying is too simplistic in my world. Make that “there are multiple surfaces to every sphere”!

I am currently in Malaysia, much closer to the Equator than the majority of my friends and family further north or south. Here, the difference in daytime is barely perceptible, being more or less of equal length all year round. Rarely are solstices given any special significance unless you happen to have associations with countries where there are traditional solstice celebrations. (1)

For me, however, having roots and lived in Scotland for most of my life, where winter solstice is the darkest day of the year, even in these Equatorial climes my awareness naturally goes to the global turn of the season as a period of inner contemplation and an invitation to look back on the year now drawing to its end.

Wishing tree roots on a winter solstice visit to Avesbury, England in 2018, photo by author, Fiona Morris

In Central Scotland, today’s winter solstice — 22nd December 2023 — is the shortest day of the year. It’s only 8.5 hours long from dawn till dusk — or “civil twilight” as it’s technically known — with the sun rising at 8:42 and setting at 15:40.

Contrast this with the 19.7 hours of daylight on the summer solstice around 20th-22nd June — a whole 11+ hours of extra daylight from one end of the year to the other!

Of course, the further north or south you go, the longer or shorter the days get.

On the other hand, here in Penang, Malaysia the difference in hours of daylight from one solstice to the next is only 1.4 hours. In Jakarta, Indonesia, my place of birth, it’s closer still to the Equator, giving even less difference: 0.8 hours.

If you’re curious, you can find the Sunrise and Sunset times and day length calendars wherever you may be on the link below. (2)

A Yule Writing Ritual

Whether it is light or dark where you are, or whether or not you celebrate Christmas or Yule, the 6.5 weeks from the solstice — around 20th — 22nd December — till the beginning of February, is generally considered a reflective time to go inward, even amidst the festivities going on at the same time.

This time spans New Year’s Day and the first month of the year, January — named after the Greek God Janus, with two faces pointing in opposite directions, symbolic of beginnings and endings, transitions, doorways and gateways. It’s an ideal period for processing the year that’s been, and setting foundations for a new year ahead.

Ancient Roman Coin with God Janus from Canva

In a quiet moment over this phase, I plan to truly sit with and process the past year’s many ups and downs by doing the following:

  • dedicate some spacious time for myself — a whole morning or afternoon
  • get out a large sheet of paper — or a few pages, perhaps one for each month, and some coloured pens
  • map out the months of the year
  • go through my diary and online calendars
  • create headings for significant events, people and places in the relevant sections
  • doodle or note any thoughts, emotions, or keywords around those headings
  • jot down any follow ups or “to dos” on a separate page
  • meditate for 15–30 minutes to integrate this process and observe what comes up
  • journal my reflections for 15–30 minutes, or more…

I invite you to join me at any point over this midwinter Yule period — or midsummer Litha for our friends down south — when you can find a quiet space between 22nd December to the first week of February. You are welcome to share any reflections in the comments afterwards.

Perhaps you have your own reflective rituals for the year’s end and beginning? Do you have a tip to share?

I’d love to hear how you learn from your year and prepare for a new one.

When I’ve done mine, I’ll share some of my reflections with you. This will likely be in the quiet lull between Christmas and New Year.

Until then, I’ll be preparing for and enjoying a cosy Christmas celebrating with my dear hubby and mum here in Penang. It’s our first one since my dad passed away back in March earlier this year, so I’m grateful that we can spend it with her.

Being in the tropics, the foliage around and about us is lush and green all year round, so it feels somewhat incongruous to be decking the halls with lights and greenery. Nevertheless, being an Indonesian from a Christian family, my mum puts up a tree and decorates the place in traditional style every year.

Card featuring Santa and Reindeer giving gifts to the Monkeys at Penang Botanical Gardens, photo by the author, Fiona Morris

On Solstice Day yesterday, I helped her with the Christmas decorations. While hanging lights and tinsel, I felt slightly bemused at the irony of decorations designed to brighten up the home in dark winter months while in reality, it is scorching hot and blindingly bright outside, wearing shorts and a light top to stay cool in the tropical heat and humidity. In our case, perhaps the frosted glass icicle ornaments combined with the ceiling fan can give an illusion of colder weather.

We are carrying on a lineage of pre-Christian pagan winter traditions that have been adopted by Christianity over the ages. Christmas trees and Yule decorations are symbols that transcend boundaries, spanning the globe from Europe across the seas to South East Asia and beyond.

As we were stringing out the lights, my mum recalled her years as a teenager living with her grandparents in Manado, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. They lived off the land and had never actually put up a Christmas tree before, so one night as a surprise, she fashioned a tree woven out out of coconut palm leaves and branches of clove — a traditional Christmas spice which is native to Indonesia and grows there prolifically. She remembers collecting the silver wrappers in discarded cigarette boxes to make decorations. Her grandparents were delighted at her ingenuity!

I find myself longing for the simplicity of the life she got to experience living with her grandparents, my great-grandparents. They left their homeland in Manado to see the origins of these cross-cultural hand-me-downs, that came from faraway lands, unlike their well-travelled descendants.

Do you have any beloved homemade festive or family traditions at this time of year? I’d love to hear about them. Send me an email reply if you’re a subscriber, or drop a note in the comments down below.

Warm wishes for the holiday season to you and yours,

P.S. I’m super excited to be a guest contributor on herbalist and storyteller, Amanda Edmiston of Botanica Fabula’s newly released online course, with a special herb inspired gift posted from myself while on my travels in Asia:

A Very Curious Herbal: The Silk Roads

I invite you to check it out on this link.

Receive 20% off, if you sign up before 1st January 2024 with code: SILKROADS

P.P.S. I can’t let solstice (aka darkest day of the year) pass without reminding you of talk I did recently for OTALOCO 2023:

Shining a Light on the Shadows of Tarot

Feedback from Oracle and Tarot Lovers Congress #OTALOCO2023 participant, screenshot by author: Fiona Morris

The live event is now over, but if you love tarot and oracle cards, this is an inspiring resource, featuring gifts and talk replays to enhance your practice from 22 speakers, available until 31st December 2023:

find out more here «~

I’m grateful that you’re here. Thanks so much for reading!

Click this image and see what happens :)

Share your thoughts, leave a note or simply say “Hi” in the comments!

References & Resources

(1) https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/solstice/

(2) https://www.sunrisesunsettime.org/

Yule
Solstice
Writing Rituals
Festive Season
Tropical Christmas
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