Music for the Longest Night

The benefits of music are well-known. It offers a soothing relief to stress, lightens our mood, and brings happiness to us in difficult times. The sounds and rhythms can be meditative, lending a sense of peace. Song lyrics distill our feelings in ways that we cannot. Through music, we can find connection with others, crossing boundaries of age and culture.

Those are some of the reasons why music is an important part of our Winter Solstice celebration, our wakeful witnessing of the longest night.

After our Winter Solstice dinner, we will gather in a large room by our fireplace and begin the activities that will take us through to sunrise. In the deep part of the night, we will listen to certain songs that lend themselves to thoughtful reflection.

Our middle-of-the-night songs include:

  • “I Believe in the Rising Sun” by Emilia Donovan-- a beautiful reflection on the lessons that Solstice can teach us

  • “Winter Song” by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson

  • River” by Joni Mitchell

  • “Oh Holy Night”

  • “Imagine” by John Lennon

  • “Pachelbel’s Canon in D” (a soothing song, to quiet our mood)

  • We also will engage in a blues sing-along, starting with a bluesy riff on the guitar and/or piano, accompanied by drumming. We then will improvise 4-8 line verses—funny or serious--about things in our lives that are bothering us or about a disappointing or annoying thing that happened to us ( such as: “I finished my work project/the boss said good job/but then didn’t invite me/out with the gang after work”) followed by a refrain sung by the group of “let it go” repeated over several times. This can be very cathartic, in the rhythmic chanting and in the laughter it invariably generates.

At the first hint of dawn, as the eastern horizon begins to glow, excitement swells for those who have stayed awake all night. To enliven the house and get everyone roused and ready to go watch the sunrise, we play the following songs:

  • “Holly Holy” by Neil Diamond—it begins with a sleepy, tinny guitar and base rhythm and swells slowly to the full sound of strings and chorus, suggesting the power of a man overcoming struggle and embracing hope. The symbol of the holly reinforces this sense of hope, as the song beckons us to get on our feet and meet the dawn, having jettisoned our burdens during the long night.

  • “Circle of Life” by Elton John and Tim Rice, recording from The Lion King--another great song to get us motivated to go out into the cold morning for the sunrise.

  • “Walk Right Up to the Sun” by the Delfonics

  • “Oh Joyful Children” recorded by Placido Domingo

After watching the sunrise, we return home, extinguish the Solstice candle that has remained lit since sunset the night before, and sit quietly for a final song:

  • “Cycles” by Frank Sinatra— along with "I Believe in the Rising Sun, " this is the most meaningful song of our celebration; its title lends itself to thinking about the cycles of the seasons, but more importantly, the song is about having to deal with the lows as well as the highs inherent in any lifetime, and the power of music to capture the feelings that bring both laughter and tears.

For more about our Solstices Celebrations get our new book:

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