Old Traditions for Blessing the Coming Year


Here comes the holiday season! With all the extra cooking, shopping, parties and darkness, I often find myself worn thin.

The time around Winter Solstice is in fact a “thin time” in that the material and spiritual worlds are very close. It is a time to prepare ourselves for new life. Each year I wonder can I move a little closer into the blessing of this thin time and out of my run-ragged holiday routine.

The old European view of Winter Solstice ushering in a thin time comes from an old calendar system. There are 12 lunar months plus roughly 12 days in a solar year. Those extra days were seen as a special time-out-of-time, therefore, a time when the material and spiritual worlds are closer. The twelve days of Christmas evolved out of this view of the calendar.

In old European traditions, when the spirit realm is close, it is best to drive away the ill-willed spirits and appeal for the blessing from the benevolent spirits. Loud noises drive away the malevolent spirits. That’s why we still make so much noise on New Year’s Eve.

Good spirits can awaken the energy for new life. When they are close, they may even be able to communicate what is in store for us. The tradition of baking a cake with a fortune or special trinket inside (King’s Cake) is one way to divine our future from the spirit realm.

The goal of all the celebrations through the thin time of the turning of the year is to drive out what doesn’t serve and cultivate blessings. The goal is to start the year purified and ready for new life. The final tradition for sealing this good fortune is to bless the waters, the home of the spirits and source of life.

The water blessing tradition lives on throughout Eastern Europe on Epiphany (January 6). In Russia, they cuts holes in the ice and people submerge themselves for blessing. Brrr! I’ve seen videos of Bulgarian men dancing in icy rivers on Epiphany. The Greek Orthodox priests dipping their blessing candles into the Aegean Sea look very comfortable in comparison.

Learning these traditions has inspired me to think about the ways I purify myself and prepare for new life. Here are some suggestions for using winter to make your coming year even more awesome:

  • Focus on releasing what no longer serves you. Perhaps this means cleaning out your closet. Maybe it means ending a commitment or relationship that is draining you. Or you could imagine all those New Year’s horns driving out your anxiety or depression.
  • Fill up on joy and good energy. The best parties feed our souls as we connect with people we love. Quiet time by the fire, in nature or in contemplation also fills up our inner storehouse.
  • Join in or create your own water blessing. Visit a lake or river that is dear to you. Give it your love and gratitude with a wish or a song. Imagine this water nourishing all life in the coming year.
  • I invite you to get the most out of the turning of the year by creatively exploring the wisdom of these traditions through a Winter Solstice Celebration on December 20 and half-day Winter Retreat (including a water blessing) on January 9, both at Lake Hiawatha Park.

May you have a blessed winter and New Year!

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Emily Jarrett Hughes
Emily Jarrett Hughes is an artist-healer helping people live vital, meaningful lives through group classes and individual sessions based in the creative and meditative movement practices of dance and qigong. Learn more at wisdomdances.com.


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