The Winter Solstice – Yalda, Dharma and Pongal

Solstice is a twice-yearly astronomical event that occurs when the sun is at its highest or lowest point in the sky. Many of us may be familiar with in in terms of it’s relation to Yuletide traditions and celebrations, but that’s only a small part. The word actually derives from the Latin solstitium, which means “sun stop” Depending on which hemisphere you’re in, the solstice marks the start of summer or winter.

The winter solstice occurs at a time when the sun is at its lowest point, signifying the day of the least amount of sun of the year; ie the darkest day and why for so many it is a time of celebrating the return of the light in the days ahead.

Why is the Winter Solstice Celebrated Globally?

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, and many cultures celebrate the return of the sun during this time. The Northern Hemisphere is experiencing its darkest and coldest season. After the solstice, however, the days begin to lengthen again.

For many cultures, the winter solstice was a time of celebration because it signaled the approach of warmer weather. People lit bonfires and sacrificed animals to honor the sun gods in ancient times. People around the world continue to celebrate the winter solstice in a variety of ways.

Often times we hear references of the Roman Saturnalia or familiar Yuletide traditions related to this season. But there is so much more in the world and we often overlook the diversity and richness of the celebrations across the globe.

Even food and meaning has a role, such as in China, the consumption of dumplings and rice cakes signifies a prosperous new year. In Japan, families eat soba, which is made from buckwheat, together. In this post we take a brief look at three different holidays you might not be aware of.

What is the Spiritual Significance of the Winter Solstice?

Winter is a season in which nature appears to be dormant. The trees are devoid of leaves, the ground is covered in snow, and the air is still. This silence can serve as a reminder that there is more to life than what is visible and tangible. It is a time for contemplation, introspection, and reflection.

The winter solstice is a time of light celebration for some. After months of darkness, we are reminded that there is light even on the darkest days. This light can represent possibility, love, and hope. It can serve as a reminder that no matter how dark the world may appear, there is always light to guide us.


Yalda is a Persian holiday commemorating the winter solstice and the year’s longest night. It is a time to gather with family and friends, eat seasonal fruits and nuts, and stay up all night to observe the sunrise.

Yalda is a tradition that has been celebrated in Iran for centuries and is cherished by many. The holiday is rich in symbolism and significance because it represents the triumph of light over darkness. Yalda is a time for Iranians to reflect on the previous year and look toward their future with hope and faith.

The festival dates back to the time when ancient Iranians venerated fire and water as symbols of life and light. Today, Yalda is a cherished celebration that brings people together to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

Family and friends traditionally gather to partake in feasts of seasonal fruits and nuts and rice, bean, and lamb-based dishes.

Yalda has grown in popularity among Iranians in the diaspora in recent years. While many still enjoy the holiday’s traditional foods, others have begun experimenting with new recipes that reflect the diversity of their culture and heritage.

votive memorial candles

The Winter Solstice is a time for Buddhists to reflect on the Dharma or the Buddha’s teachings. The Dharma has three main categories: wisdom, ethics, and meditation.

Understanding how things are is the meaning of the first category, wisdom. This includes understanding the Four Noble Truths: that life is filled with suffering, that suffering has a cause, that suffering has an end, and that there is a path to liberation from suffering.

The second category, ethics, refers to how we conduct ourselves daily. The central tenet is compassion for all beings. We should strive to live in a manner that causes as little harm as possible and brings as much happiness into the world as possible.

Meditation, the third category, refers to introspection and reflection. This facilitates awareness and the practice of mindfulness.


Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated for four days in Tamil Nadu, India. The first day of the celebration is dedicated to the worship of the sun. On this day, farmers give thanks for a successful harvest and pray for future prosperity. Pongal celebrations consist of feasting, traditional music, dance, and bulls with elaborate decorations.

On the festival’s second day, family and friends exchange gifts and visit one another’s homes. Cows are decorated with garlands and paint and given a special meal of rice and milk on the third day. The fourth day is set aside for cleaning the home and preparing special dishes to be shared with neighbors.

Pongal coincides with Makar Sankranti, the winter solstice, and signifies the beginning of the sun’s six-month northward journey.

In all of Tamil Nadu, Pongal is celebrated with great fervor and enthusiasm. People light bonfires and burn discarded clothing and household items to mark the beginning of the new season. This time is also dedicated to the sun god, for whom people pray and prepare special treats in the shape of the sun.

Welcome In The Light

The Winter Solstice is a potent time to let go of the past and welcome the future. The Winter Solstice is a time of reflection and contemplation for many people. It is time to evaluate our lives and consider what we wish to alter.

Additionally, the Winter Solstice is a time of new beginnings. It is time to set our intentions for the coming year and sow the seeds of our future. The time has come to let go of the past and embrace the future with optimism and possibility.

The Winter Solstice is a potent reminder that we are in a constant state of change. This truth can help us flow with life rather than resist it if we accept it. When we let go of what no longer serves us, we make room in our lives for new experiences.


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10 Sober Ideas For Creating Meaningful Traditions

10 Sober Ideas For Creating Meaningful Traditions

While the holidays are a source of joy and excitement for many, for those in recovery, it can feel quite the opposite. So, how do I manage the holidays in recovery? Here’s 10 sober ideas for creating meaningful traditions.

With the holiday season approaching, you may feel more unsettled than usual as you think about potential triggers, mental health struggles, and the overindulgence that comes with the season.

For years the holidays were centered around drugs or alcohol, so it can feel overwhelming to know how or where to begin.

Take heart in knowing that you now have the opportunity to start from scratch. Being in recovery means you have a clean slate to start new, meaningful traditions with family or friends. 

So, let’s talk about how to navigate the holiday season as an individual in recovery, and a few ideas to help spark your inspiration. 

Taking Care of Yourself During The Holidays:

If you’re in active recovery, you’re already well aware of the challenges that can be thrown your way. Most holidays involve alcohol in one way or another, so taking care of yourself during this season is vital. 

Here are a few ways you can make this holiday season a little easier:

Be Proactive:

If you’re new to sobriety, it may not be in your best interest to simply “wing it”. Ask yourself a few proactive questions to ensure you’re not caught off guard:

  • What is my desired outcome for this holiday season?
  • How am I going to handle my triggers?
  • Who can I trust at a social gathering to hold me accountable?

If you have a sponsor, now is a great time to connect with them about your worries. Every person in sobriety struggles around the holidays to some extent. Lean on those who have walked in your shoes so you’re prepared for whatever comes your way. 

Identify Your Triggers:

No, alcohol or drugs may not be the only trigger you come across during the holidays. For example, your emotional and mental state during the holidays can make you feel weaker than normal. 

A few common triggers include:

  • Interactions with certain family members (people)
  • Unexpected schedule changes 
  • Financial pressures 
  • Traveling
  • Certain locations (places)
  • Other objects such as: syringes, tinfoil, or bottle openers (things)

Keep in mind, you may not always know exactly what triggers you have until you’re confronted with them. If you have a therapist or close friend or family member, talk with them – they may be able to pinpoint something you aren’t able to see. 

Make a Plan To Say ‘No’:

Create a boundary, and stick to it. Bring a non-alcoholic beverage to sip on so others won’t offer you a drink. While some people choose to hide their reasons, it’s always better to maintain honesty. 

A few ways to respond may be:

  • “I don’t drink”. 
  • “I’m not drinking anymore”.
  • “I’m in recovery”.

Remember, you don’t owe anyone an explanation if they attempt to push you further. Alcohol is often the only substance people feel so compelled to have to explain not using. Set your boundaries as you feel comfortable.

Starting New, Meaningful Holiday Traditions In Recovery:

Recovery can be a rocky road and the holiday seasons are sure to bring about old memories of substance use in the past. While you might not feel as cheery and bright as in previous years, your holidays are by no means doomed for gloom!

Making the choice to create fun, wholesome, new holiday traditions can help you cultivate the healthy life you are striving to build. Establishing traditions can not only give you something to look forward to, but it can also serve as a positive experience among feelings of stress and worry. 

So, let’s go over a few sober holiday traditions to try this year:
  • Host a Movie Marathon: When was the last time you let yourself enjoy movies you once loved as a kid? Host a Christmas movie marathon with your closest friends or family members. Have each person write down their favorite childhood movie and draw from a hat! You could even make this a weekly event leading up to the holidays. 
  • Schedule a Game Night: Board games are incredibly underrated. Who doesn’t love a good competitive game of Clue? Or get ruthless with UNO. You can invite family and friends, or make it a night specifically for companions in recovery. Each person can bring their own favorite game to share!
  • Start Baking: Baking cookies, granola bars, pies, and other holiday treats have been around for ages. It’s a fun, holiday-centered tradition that doesn’t require any substances to enjoy. The plus side? Baking can be done as an individual activity for days you don’t feel like socializing, or as a group effort. 

  • Hit The Rink: When’s the last time you laced your skates up and took to the rink? Probably childhood. Whether it’s a community ice rink or wooden floored skate park, skating is a wonderful way to not only get your body moving but enjoy active time. 
  • Decorate Gingerbread Houses: Dedicate an afternoon (or evening) to icing those windows, and plopping gumdrops on your front lawn. Gingerbread house decorating is the equivalent of pumpkin carving during Halloween. You may just be surprised at what architectural skills you have! Entice some sober friends to decorate along with you with peppermint lattes or a new coffee
    1. Try something new. Ever made Turkish Coffee on the stove top? Ever made your own handmade pasta (its not hard) or peppermint bark? Or maybe learn to roll your own spring rolls?
    2. Not a foodie? No, problem – go different. The US Olympian, Tom  Daley has a new book out on knitting – something he learned to do to handle boredom and it became a sort of meditation. Go to a pottery house and paint your own. Drop an language app onto your phone and spend 30 minutes a day on it or YouTube how to play the uke or guitar.
    3. Attend a Light Tour: Many cities around the country have Holiday walk-through light tours. If yours doesn’t, make it a tradition to walk or drive through the neighborhoods that go all out. From string lights to Santa Claus, to the Grinch, the decorations are endless! It’s a fun way to enjoy the spirit of Christmas. 
    4. Caroling is a waning tradition but singing with friends is a great booster for mood and gets the mirth pumping. Print off some easy sing-along sheets from online, grab your coffee and a few of friends.
    5. If you’re stuck – go early to a meeting. Open the door for people as they arrive. Smile, shake hands and greet them – tell them you are glad they came and you hope they keep coming. Not feeling social? Set up chairs, make coffee or bring some cookies to put out. When in doubt – simple acts of service are a good tradition any time of the year.

      Holidays In Recovery Are a Time To Start New:

      Holidays aren’t exactly avoidable. They come and go no matter what. If you’re in recovery, holidays can be particularly triggering. Be proactive about your approach, create a plan and identify your triggers so you feel both empowered, and safe

      Sobriety means creating a new life for yourself. The holidays make look different this year, but creating new, healthy traditions can become an anchor in your journey.

      Recovery gives you an opportunity to make the holiday season what you’ve always wanted it to be.

      Whatever you do, I wish you a healthy and happy holidays –

      Buon Natale’ !