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When I lived in Beacon, NY, just a short walk from the Hudson River, I would hold a solstice vigil every year.

Friends would arrive in the evening and be handed a piece of paper to write down what they wanted to get rid of, what they chose not to carry, into the year to come.

It was always an unusual party, quiet and contemplative.  Often we would choose a theme to discuss:  loved ones who had passed away in the previous year, or friendships that no longer served and needed to be left behind.

After we all had gathered, had time to contemplate, and time to write, we would light a fire.  Some years this was in the backyard fire pit, but when the weather was bitterly cold, we would drag a giant slate flagstone into the house and put it in the middle of the living room floor.  We would each light a candle, stick it to the huge stone, and, perched on pillows and wrapped in blankets, gather round.

Over the next few hours, lit only by firelight, we would share what we wanted to release and then burn the paper we had written it on, sending those things to ash and dust.  And so the year would die.

In ancient times it was believed that the year died with the setting sun on the day before the longest night. The new year was born when the sun arose the next day.  So we sat up all night, awaiting the dawn, awaiting the birth of the new year, which we greeted with ruckus cheers and kitchen-drums made from pots and wooden spoons.  Then it was out to the diner for breakfast, where we set our intentions for the year to come.

This year, this ritual of death and rebirth, feels especially important.  It is not only the death of the old year, it is the death of a 26,000 year astronomical cycle charted by the Mayan Long Calendar.

Today at noon, our sun began its passage through the Galactic Equator (the dark trail in the photo above). In Mayan Cosmology, that long, dark trail is the birth canal of the Cosmic Mother.  The Sun passes through and is reborn, every 26,000 years.

Tonight is Yule, the longest night of the year.  As we enter the void between the year’s and, this year, between cosmic cycles, release what you do not want to carry into the year to come.

Our solstice work:

For the last week (if you did homework step #3 from last week!) you have been noticing things that don’t serve you, friendships that don’t work, thoughts that bring you down.  You have noticed the piles on your desk, the laundry piled on your dresser, the dead flowers in the garden that need to be cut-back.  Now is the time!  Set the energy for the year (and cosmic cycle) to come.

Step #1:  Do the physical work.  Spend some time cleaning, straightening, and organizing.  As you clean your bathroom, clean thoughts from your mind that don’t serve.  As you straighten your living room, nudge your thoughts into clarity and alignment.  As you organize your office, put structure on your life so that in the year to come you have space and time for dreaming and creating.

Step #2:  Write down everything you don’t want to take into 2013.  You don’t need to read, read, and re-read this.  Just get it down on paper and out of your body.  Then… let it burn!   A fire pit or grill is great for this.  I have also used a kitchen skillet (not one with non-stick coating, though) set on the pavers of my back porch. An abalone shell is magical because the pearly inside stays pearly, white, and soot-free when you burn in it.

The plant world can lend lovely assistance to your burning ritual:

White Sage or Garden Sage for cleansing and clearing old patterns.

Frankincense and Myrrh for peaceful death of all that doesn’t serve our highest good and the highest good of the planet.

Tomorrow,  I will greet the sun with Dragon’s Blood to give life to the New Year.

The final step in this dance, which I will outline next week, is calling-in our intentions for the New Year.  So continue steps #1 and #2 from last week, in the week to come!

And remember, the year continues the way it begins, so begin with Joy.  If you need inspiration, check-out other folks who are thinking about Joy:

Glad Doggett wrote a beautiful peice on the kindness of strangers.

Kate Brenton writes about being in the present moment.

Tanya McGill Freeman writes about the joy of serving others.

Sue Simpson gives us a beautiful list of joy-ousity.

Lauren Ebbecke writes on wintery joys.

What do you want to say about Joy?  Tell me in the comments below.