Setting up seasonal winter altars

Many of us feel called to set up special sacred spaces during the holiday season. Sometimes there are opportunities to set up formal altars, other times we might only put up a tabletop Christmas tree or hang some string lights. But no matter how much space, budget, and freedom you have to set up a space for the holidays, you can perform intentional actions to make your space a bright and uplifting place to spend the season in. 

No Footprint / Hidden / Closet Practices

• Dedicate a table lamp or other light source already in your home to be your sacred light for the season. You can say a silent prayer, affirmation, or other intention each time you turn it on and off. Interact with the lamp the same way you would a candle or fireplace, and inviting personal guides or deities to use the light source as an anchor/way to send their energy into your space.

• Observe sunrise and/or sunset during the darkest weeks of the year in December and January. You can download an app to your phone that will automatically calculate/notify you of sunset or sunrise each day. Use this time to say a prayer or affirmation, ask for insight from your guides, or do other astral journeying or intentional work in your mind. 

• Keep a single pine needle, pine cone, holly leaf, etc. in a drawer or other private area. You don’t need a whole tree, wreath, or garland to represent nature/the Evergreen/etc in your practice. (You don’t technically need anything at all, just reach out in your heart, and you will connect because you yourself are a living creature with inherent connection to nature and life source!) You can place the small green talisman nearby during any meditations, prayers, offerings, etc. that you’re able to do. 

• Anoint your hands, heart, and/or forehead with a drop of the coldest water you have access to. (Tap water or a melted ice cube is fine!) Use this as a symbolic way of blessing yourself with snow water/ice water, drawing on the purification and clarity that winter can bring, and refreshing yourself with positive energy from the source of Life. 

Working with Greens

We really enjoy working with greens over the winter season, as this helps keep us focused on personal growth and positive things to come in the new year. (Having greens inside and increased work with plant spirits can also help bring vitality, motivation, and support for self-care during the darker season when many of us are more prone to depression.) You can dedicate greens to any nature deity or spirit, the earth, ancestors, one’s own life force, or to a specific intention you hope to grow in the new year. We dedicate our altar greens to the Tree of Life and Knowledge/the Evergreen/universal life source. 

The most common greens used in winter altars are conifers and other evergreens. We recommend using varieties that are local to you whenever possible. Many florists and grocery stores will stock greens around the holidays if you don’t have access to land to collect your own. It’s totally fine to buy a premade wreath or garland and either dedicate it to your own deities/practice as-is, or to disassemble it and use the materials to craft your own decorations. 

If you’re able to collect wild greens, we recommend taking along a proper set of hand shears/clippers/loppers. While it is ok to break off a branch if you have no other option, it is always preferable to cut branches cleanly with proper pruning tools. This is healthier for the tree, and therefore a good way to show care and respect to the individual plant spirit one is harvesting from. In general, you want to clip branches off close to the base but just before the branch collar, avoiding the area where the branch begins to flare out and connect with the rest of the tree. 

—> If you feel strongly about having a real tree as an indoor Christmas tree, we highly suggest either A) buying a rooted tree that’s able to be planted after the holiday season or B) buying your tree from a local independent local tree farmer and disposing of it via composting or local recycling programs rather than landfill disposal. We do not personally support the purchase of live Christmas trees which have been produced en-masse by large corporations and transported long distances. 

We like to make offerings at the time we collect greens, as a way of thanking the trees and nature for their gifts and assistance. We usually say prayers to the Tree of Life and Knowledge, and offer a small pour of household well water or a drink at the roots of trees we harvest from, and scatter things like corn, oats, shaved carrots, etc. for wildlife to eat. Sometimes, we use chalk, charcoal, or flour to draw simple shapes/sigils on the tree’s trunk for decoration or energetic attunement/intention setting.

When we craft garlands and wreaths, we typically charge the twine/string on the altar ahead of time, and often dedicate the labor to artisan/weaver deities (usually Athena in our household) and to some of our personal ancestors who were weavers or sailors who relied on tying good knots. Sometimes, we create petition papers, sigils, paper wards, and other psaligraphy to be tied into the greens for extra magical charge.  When the finished greens are hung, we light all the candles on the altar, burn incense, ring bells, and make offerings of food and drink to open the altar space for the winter season. 

Working with Candles and Other Lights

One of the most iconic parts of many holiday traditions are the lights– candles, lanterns, lamps, string lights, porch lights, tree toppers… in the darkest time of year, humans like to keep the lights on! (See this post for further discussion of this) You can dedicate any light source as a sacred light in your practice, and interact with it according to your own tradition or however feels intuitively correct at the time. Working with candles brings the opportunity to use seasonal oils, herbs, or other scents, and to engrave any special dedications or intentions into the wax, which can be beneficial for self-care or longer term goals.

Some of our household lighting traditions include:

• Lighting a pillar candle on the altar at sunrise and keeping it lit until we go to sleep

• Hanging even more string lights around the house (we like string lights so much, we keep some up year round!)

• Setting up advent candles and lighting one each Sunday until Christmas (we often charge these to assist with spiritual healing, reclaiming personal spiritual power/reconnecting with the divine, and shaking off negative religious experiences)

• Having outdoor fire/campfire/bonfire on the night of the winter solstice

• Having an indoor artificial Christmas tree that stays lit the entire season

• Making regular candle and incense offerings to ancestors, deities, and nature spirits

• Paying special attention to deities and guides associated with darkness, winter, the underworld/the dead, and personal shadow work

• Keeping a candle or lamp burning overnight on the evening of the Winter Solstice / longest night of the year

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