The Hippo


May 24, 2020








Katja Esser leads winter solstice celebration. Photo by Laura Latimer.

Attend a solstice celebration Winter Solstice 2014

When: Sunday, Dec. 21, from 1 to 4 p.m.
Where: America’s Stonehenge, 105 Haverhill Road, Salem
Tickets: $11 site entry fee, $5 minimum donation for celebration
See: for “homework”
Sacred Circle Dance for the Winter Solstice
When: Friday, Dec.19, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Portsmouth Center for Yoga and the Arts, 95 Albany St., No. 14, Portsmouth
Tickets: $5,  optional dessert donation for potluck
See: 664-2796,,
Open Yule/Winter Solstice Celebration
When: Sunday, Dec. 21, at 7 p.m.
Where: Universalist Unitarian Church of Concord, 274 Pleasant St., Concord
Tickets: Free; donations welcome


The longest night
Celebrate the end of shorter winter days at a solstice event

By Allie Ginwala

This year’s winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, falls on Sunday, Dec. 21. Embrace the darkest day with a local solstice celebration, knowing that once the longest night of the year has passed, each coming day will be one step closer to the spring thaw.

Commune with nature
Katja Esser, ceremonialist, leads a winter solstice celebration at America’s Stonehenge in Salem. It emphasizes the “return of the light” and how it impacts the earth.
“The main part of it [winter solstice] is when the sun starts moving again, the days go longer and things start defrosting and we can grow food again,” Esser said in a phone interview. 
Since 1992, Esser has invited participants to tune into what is happening in nature and try to discover how that influences them individually. 
“I use [a] theme and how it applies to our daily lives and how it affects the seasons,” she said. 
Since 2015 marks the beginning of an “earth year,” Esser’s celebration theme will be relationships with the earth, she said. 
“This ritual focuses on our disconnect to the world itself. … Iif] we have no connection to the earth, [that] has an effect on the earth.”
Esser assigns “homework” that she encourages guests to prepare before the solstice celebration. The preparation guidelines are listed on the event website so everyone may come ready on the day with their “intentions aligned.” 
“If they put the energy into it, that’s what they’ll also get out,” she said. “[There is] something really beautiful when people really bring their homework and see how their input magnifies the whole thing.” 
The event will be outdoors, so warm clothing and winter boots are recommended. Anyone is invited to prepare a snack to share at a potluck after the celebration. 
Dance in unity
If an outdoor celebration isn’t your style, join with friends and community members for a special sacred circle dance to welcome in the lighter days at the Portsmouth Center for Yoga and the Arts.
“A sacred circle dance draws from the traditions of people all over the world who come together to dance in circles,” dance teacher Amy Antonucci said in a phone interview. 
An international folk dance, sacred circle draws from multiple cultures’ traditions. 
“This simple folk dance had been part of most cultures going back thousands of years,” she said. “It’s continued on that beautiful tradition of people coming together to connect this way.”
Antonucci has led sacred circle dances in Portsmouth for the past 12 years and decided to begin a winter solstice dance tradition to celebrate and “welcome the growing sun.” Each sacred circle dance has choreographed steps and a specific song that goes with it. The dance to the song “The Bells of Norwich” is reserved solely for this time of year. 
“It is about going through dark times, but believing they will shift and things will be well again,” she said. “We always dance it on the winter solstice and during the winter and put it away in spring.”
Since she lives on a small farm, Antonucci feels connected to the seasons and earth cycles. 
“There’s just an ancient tradition of people coming together for winter solstice,” she said. “It’s sort of a depressing time of year in the Northern Hemisphere and knowing that it’s about to shift seems to be a powerful time that people want to be together and mark what was happening in the world around them.”
Sacred circle dancers that come for Antonucci’s regular events range from age 20 to 75. It’s an open environment for beginners as well; she’ll explain all of the steps before each dance. 
“My focus is on the joy and community of it,” she said. “It’s a pretty low-stress kind of environment.” 
For the solstice celebration, lights will be set up around the room and will dim and brighten throughout the dances to follow the contrasting themes of light and dark. After the dance there will be a dessert potluck and time to socialize.
Norse traditions
Delve a bit deeper into a traditional celebration at the Yule/Winter Solstice at Universalist Unitarian Church of Concord. As part of a 25-year tradition at the church, this celebration will showcase a Norse-based solstice.
“Ours is always a religious event rather than entertainment,” Lorraine Ellis, a member of the church’s earth-centered spirituality group, said in a phone interview. 
Following the Norse Pantheon, this year’s celebration will feature “a Norse creation story, honoring the sun goddess Sol, and a return from the dark,” she said.
The celebration is presented differently each year by a member of the “eclectic” earth-centered spirituality group, Ellis said. This year’s leader is versed in the Norse Pantheon while previous celebrations have incorporated Wiccan and Native American elements.
“We’ll have an invocation to the gods, we will tell the creation story, the lights in the sanctuary will be dimmed and all the candles will be put out,” Ellis said. “There will be a [symbolic] return of the sun, the light will come back in and we’ll light the candles.” It will conclude with singing and dancing and a “thanks to the gods for their blessings and attendance.” 
According to Ellis, winter solstice is a “turning of the tide” in many mythologies. 
“The light is reborn so that the result is that the days get longer so we’re celebrating the fact that it’s going to get lighter, the darkness has been overcome and the wheel has turned,” she said. 
As seen in the December 18, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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