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PHOTOS: The Secret Lantern Society illuminates the Winter Solstice with ‘fire and song’

people gather around the fire at the secret lantern society
The Secret Lantern Society hosted their third-annual Winter Festival and Spiral of Light on Dec. 20, inviting New Yorkers to light the longest night of the year.
Adrian Childress

Two years ago, in the midst of a very dark year, Debra Sheldon decided she and her neighbors needed a little light — literally.

On the Winter Solstice in 2020 — the longest night of the year — Sheldon and her new organization, the Secret Lantern Society NYC, hosted their first-ever Winter Lantern Festival and Spiral of Light in Domino Park. The Society filled the waterfront park with softly-glowing lanterns and encouraged attendees to bring their own — it was a moment of lightness and community for many as they welcomed the slow return of the daylight.

people walk the candlelit spiral at the winter solstice festival
The Secret Lantern Society filled Domino Park with lanterns and encouraged attendees to bring their own. Adrian Childress
people singing near fire at lantern festival
Attendees sang together as they celebrated the coming return of sunlight after the longest night of the year. Adrian Childress

On Dec. 20, the Secret Lantern Society welcomed locals for the third-annual Lantern Festival. Celebrants gathered on the steps near the park’s fountain for songs and hot chocolate as they enjoyed the glow of the lights surrounding them.

“The Secret Lantern Society NYC continues the ancient and sacred tradition of joyfully celebrating the Winter Solstice gateway with fire and song,” Sheldon told Brooklyn Paper ahead of the event. “All are invited to join in the lighting of the longest night, and to welcome the new year’s offerings of warmth and the promises of life that come with the rebirth of the Sun. Two interlocking spirals of light will be created with evergreen boughs and handmade paper lanterns, aglow with beeswax candles.”

people drink hot chocolate at lantern festival
Attendees warmed up with hot chocolate on the dark and chilly evening. Adrian Childress
people stand beside bonfire
Sheldon said everyone was invited to celebrate the solstice “with fire and song.” Adrian Childress

A fire burned at the center of that illuminated spiral labyrinth – which, itself, is a symbol of an inner journey into the depths of ones self and back out again, according to the Secret Lantern Society’s website. Attendees walked together to the center of the path, where they rang chimes as they stood around the fire’s warmth. Musician Leland Lehrman led the group in songs and carols, and Jarrod Byrne Mayer of Brooklyn Healing Arts created “therapeutic soundscapes” play over the labyrinth.

lantern labyrinth path
Walking the labyrinth represents an inner journey, as celebrants shed the burdens of the past year and look into the promise of the next. Adrian Childress

Though the solstice — and the longest night of the year — marks the first day of winter, it also means the darkest days of the year are over. Starting on Dec. 22, the sun will shine a little longer each day — and the earliest sunset of the season has already come and gone

Correction 12/22/2022, 12:06pm: This story previously misstated the name of the musician who performed at the event. We regret the error. 

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