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Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.
Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.

Winter Solstice Is Sacred

Dec 16, 2011

December 21 is a sacred day. It marks the first day of winter as well as the solstice. It is an appropriate time to address spirituality. 

Winter solstice is a sacred day for many cultures. It is a powerful time to offer prayers of thanks for all we are blessed with. I have come to believe that Christmas Day, which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, was actually created as a way to turn Indigenous people away from our own way of worship on the winter solstice.

The Lakota people did not celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ before the reservation churches were established. I believe the real day of prayer was observed on the winter solstice by the people with ceremony, food and family. When the people were blessed with abundance in preparing for the harshest season of the year, it was appropriate for them to pause on a sacred day to give thanks for having enough basic necessities to get them through another winter.

So, even though my Lakota ancestors were busy every day of their lives making sure there was enough water to drink, food to eat, appropriate clothing and warm shelter available for everyone, daily prayers were also essential. Nature and the stars were monitored carefully to help with preparation for whatever time of year was upon the people.

Today we have organized religion all around us. Some religious leaders believe we do not have any kind of spirituality. I personally believe that Jesus Christ brought messages of love and forgiveness. He encouraged people to refrain from judgment. He was a role model. But, like my Lakota ancestors who participated in the Ghost Dance, Jesus was judged as dangerous. He was crucified.

Many Lakota people will offer a prayer in much the same way our ancestors did on the Winter Solstice. Many of us will also join mainstream society in celebrating Christmas next week. Yet, those of us who chose to embrace our own Lakota spirituality are often ostracized; sometimes by our own family members. Still, I believe my Lakota prayers with the Sacred Pipe will bring me everlasting life.

Happy Holidays to all of you.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She can be reached through email at



09:09 pm - Sat, December 17 2011
Faith Parker said:
Lakota culture and spirituality is both beautiful and reverent. I incorporate many of the prayers and much of the philosophy into my life. I intend to observe the solstice with Lakota prayers, gratitude, and respect to honor the sustenance and magesty given to us by our Mother.

A joyous holiday season to all.

07:21 am - Mon, December 19 2011
Rebecca said:
Great column, Vi.
07:59 am - Mon, December 19 2011
Bernie Hunhoff said:
I've long thought that "my" Catholic Church has not done enough to find the spiritual in the physical world.
01:22 pm - Mon, December 19 2011
John Pappas said:
As a Buddhist living in South Dakota, I can relate to the article in that I can relate to the message and ethic of most solstice celebrations over the celebration of Christmas except in the commercial sense. My own solstice celebration party consist of pagans, Lakota, Buddhists and Hindu. A diverse and engaging group that honor a spirit of the winter months.
04:06 pm - Tue, December 20 2011
Lisa hardiman said:
I think that christian people who are stuck on the thought of Jesus' birthday and who take offense when you say, "happy holidays" so denying tradition and religious practices all over the world - are really saying they don't know how to share.
09:04 am - Wed, January 4 2012
Kathy Kramer said:
I've struggled with my Christian faith and religion and spirituality, but I've come to find more comfort in spirituality than organized religion. I actually feel the closest to God when I go some place like the Badlands or the open plains West River. I can't get close to God when I'm in a church because there are too many other things and people in the way. Plus people built that church building.

That said, I still identify as a Christian, but I do not belong to any church or denomination. I know what is in my heart and what brings me comfort and I don't need dogma to tell me that. I am a spiritual person.
06:30 am - Thu, December 20 2012
Thank you for your wonderful post Yes I am fill with wonder and Awe when I think of celebrating Winter solstice . Tomorrow I will have a big bom fire and will drum in circle auround it in gratitude for mother earth we need people to ligthen up and not be so narow minded life is met to be of celebration and gratitude and Joy of thankgiving I am so happy and grateful for the abundance that the Universe is providing me everyday I have everything I need and a lot more .....
Much blessing to all and Happy Winter solstice and sacred holiday
White Wolf Heart ~~~Namaste~~~~
08:38 am - Fri, December 21 2012
Anthony Valerio said:
Thank you for the post! In celebration of the winter solstice Ill join an inipi ceremony out here in upstate new york. The inipi was given to us from Lakote people in south dakota on the cheyenne river res. Winter solstice is a great day to relfect on all we have learned the past year and what is in store for us as we head in the north direction. Wisdom and truth come from the north. Im grateful to be a part of it.
10:39 am - Sun, December 21 2014
Deborah Marshall said:
It is so refreshing to know that traditions are being kept, and that people can speak freely and proudly of them. The Creator never made one of anything but one of everything. There is no single type of tree, grass, lion or even bacteria, but each individual life is unique. Life is based on diversity. The Creator designed it that way. Would The Creator want only one method of thanksgiving? How boring would that be! Mitakuye oyesin is so true even science can not argue with that! Wakan Tanka kici in!
02:06 am - Sat, December 22 2018
Daniel Garber said:
Although I was raised Protestant, I am most comfortable practicing Lakota ways. One has to wonder how the people would know what day was the winter solstice? The Dakota winters are brutal, so they would be hunkered down for the winter in their lodges. How would they know when the Solstice was? I'm sure the old ones had priests who kept the day counts. There are the old medicine wheels up on the mountains. Those would tell the people when the longest day was in the summer. From that they could figure out when the two equinoxes are - when the sun comes up due east and goes down due west. The deduction of the day of the Winter Solstice is easy from there. It's halfway between the two equinoxes and opposite of the Summer Solstice on the Medicine Wheel. Through the cold and snowy December they would count the days until they got to the halfway point. Unlike modern custom, it's not really the first day of any Winter season. It's more like the halfway thru point of Winter. From here on out the days get longer, if not warmer right away. Knowing that is enough to make the wait for warmer weather easier.

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