Published: Friday, Dec. 11th, 2020
The darkest, coldest nights of winter don’t worry us much, because we know they’ll always pass. When the darkness offers a chance for quiet reflection, we take comfort in knowing that the brighter days of spring are just around the corner. This hopeful outlook is also why, during the hardest, roughest days in a relationship, couples find comfort in the knowledge that their love will continue to shine on brightly.
In the Northern Hemisphere the Winter Solstice falls on just such a night… the longest, darkest night of the year. December 21st. A night of reflection, of patience, of hope for the future. And it’s been celebrated in one way or another -- most often with lights! -- for thousands of years.
Ancient civilizations would fill the night air with glowing, crackling bonfires and noisy celebrations, a ceremonial plea to the gods to return the sun. Today, people celebrate in similar ways with bonfires and candle lightings, strings of twinkle lights, parades, large dinner parties -- and weddings.
Because of the Solstice’s long history, the various meanings and interpretations associated with the day are easily included in any type of wedding, betrothal, or commitment ceremony. Many couples choose to include elements of earth-based spirituality, Pagan ritual (such as handfasting), or the secular joy of nature and the turning of the seasons.
(For a detailed sample script, visit our Winter Solstice Ceremony Script With Candle Lighting. You might also like the Variation on a Pagan Handfasting, which involves many candles and multiple generations of family members, or the Unity Candle Ceremony with a Reading.)
Arrange lit candles along the walls of the room or the outer edge of the ceremony space, to create a circle of light that surrounds the guests, officiant, and couple during the ceremony. For safety, or to protect the candles from wind, place them in jars or lanterns. At the center of the ceremony space, where the couple will say their vows, prepare a table with three large candles, and many smaller candles (in jars or lanterns), with at least one small candle per guest.
The officiant welcomes the guests and introduces the couple. They explain the purpose of the gathering (marriage, betrothal, or commitment ceremony), and share the history and significance of the Solstice, while offering insight into the couple’s personal connection to the holiday.
The officiant talks about the symbolism of the Solstice, and gives the couple a blessing, or offers a few secular words on the importance of love and the hope for continued joy and health together. The officiant might talk about how the couple met, what their life together has been like, and what the meaning of partnership or marriage means to them.
The officiant lights one large candle to represent the light of the returning sun.
The couple publicly declares their intent to marry, with the officiant asking each partner if they want to marry each other. This is where the familiar ‘I do’ part of the ceremony comes in, and in some states it’s mandatory. The declaration of intent can be as simple as asking, “Do you wish to join with this person in marriage?”, followed by “I do.”
The officiant tells the guests that the couple have written personal vows (or poetry, or music), and then turns to each partner in turn.
Each partner will share what they’ve prepared and light another large candle using the flame from the first, saying something like, “And now I light this candle to represent the strength and hope I find in the return of the sun, the light of our love, and the promise of a new season.”
The officiant lets the guests know that the couple will exchange rings as a physical symbol of their unity. They will ask each partner in turn to place a ring on the other’s hand, which they do.
The officiant now gives the guests an opportunity to stand and light one of the candles on the table, using the first large candle (representing the sun) as a source of fire. The officiant explains that each of these small lights is seen and felt, is essential, and contributes to the brightness of the whole.
The officiant talks about the ritual’s role in reminding the couple of their place within a larger community, the support and love of the group they’ve created around themselves, and the strength that each individual takes from the other. If this is a large gathering, the ritual may take a longer time, and it will be best to discuss the candle lighting order ahead of time. (But it’s worth it! A glowing table of light and love is a moving thing to see.)
The officiant officially declares the couple to be married (or engaged, committed, bound). This is a strikingly beautiful moment, with the couple beside a table filled with symbolic light.
The officiant announces that the ceremony is over. They tell guests whether or not there will be other activities following the ceremony, and wish them a day of merriment as they exit.
Will you be having a Winter Solstice wedding this year?
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