Officially the first day of winter, the winter solstice occurs when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. This is the longest night of the year, meaning that despite the cold winter, the days get progressively longer after thewinter solstice until the summer solstice in 2016.
The winter solstice is celebrated by many people around the world as the beginning of the return of the sun, and darkness turning into light. The Talmud recognizes the winter solstice as “Tekufat Tevet.” In China, the Dongzhi Festival is celebrated on the Winter Solstice by families getting together and eating special festive food.
Until the 16th century, the winter months were a time of famine in northern Europe. Most cattle were slaughtered so that they wouldn’t have to be fed during the winter, making the solstice a time when fresh meat was plentiful. Most celebrations of the winter solstice in Europe involved merriment and feasting. In pre-Christian Scandinavia, the Feast of Juul, or Yule, lasted for 12 days celebrating the rebirth of the sun god and giving rise to the custom of burning a Yule log.
In ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated at the Feast of Saturnalia, to honor Saturn, the god of agricultural bounty. Lasting about a week, Saturnalia was characterized by feasting, debauchery and gift-giving. With Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, many of these customs were later absorbed intoChristmas celebrations.
One of the most famous celebrations of the winter solstice in the world today takes place in the ancient ruins of Stonehenge, England. Thousands of druids and pagans gather there to chant, dance and sing while waiting to see the spectacular sunrise.
Pagan author T. Thorn Coyle wrote in a 2012 HuffPost article that for many contemporary celebrants, solstices “are a chance to still ourselves inside, to behold the glory of the cosmos, and to take a breath with the Sacred.”
In the Northern hemisphere, friends gather to celebrate the longest night. We may light candles, or dance around bonfires. We may share festive meals, or sing, or pray. Some of us tell stories and keep vigil as a way of making certain that the sun will rise again. Something in us needs to know that at the end of the longest night, there will be light.
In connecting with the natural world in a way that honors the sacred immanent in all things, we establish a resonance with the seasons. Ritual helps to shift our consciousness to reflect the outer world inside our inner landscape: the sun stands still within us, and time changes. After the longest night, we sing up thedawn. There is a rejoicing that, even in the darkest time, the sun is not vanquished. Sol Invictus — the Unconquered Sun — is seen once again, staining the horizon with the promise of hope and brilliance.
This year the Circle Sanctuary, a prominent U.S. pagan organization headed by Selena Fox, will observe the solstice with an all-ages Yule celebration on Saturday Dec. 19 complete with music, crafts and storytelling.
Personal note: I don’t really believe that the Christian Jesus was born around the time of Yule. However, in my house, we celebrate Christmas and Santa and all of that. I focus more on handmade gifts and little things than materialistic things. However, since my daughter is 4, it’s hard to get away from those things since she is at the age where she wants practically everything she sees toy and clothes-wise. There is a real historic figure called St. Niklaus who would bring gifts to children at the Yule-time. Christmas has only been celebrated in the US since about the 1800s. In it’s current manifestation, it seems more like a holiday invented by the toy manufacturers to increase their profits. Historically speaking, we know that Emperor Constantine appropriated Pagan holidays for Christian ones ostensibly to make them more palatable to his people who had been Pagan for generations.
For me, personally, I believe that the spiritual universe is made up of male and female essences and to operate fully, they both need to work together. I believe that the dying god, the male esssence, is sacrificed (or dies in the winter) and goes into the Mother (Earth) for the winter in order to be reborn again in the spring. I’m thinking of a figure like The Green Man.
Incidentally, there is going to be a full moon this year on the Winter Solstice. If anyone is interested, this would be a good time to do your spells to bring you good things for the next year. If you have tarot cards, lay the deck out over night where the light of the moon can touch them. This will cleanse them and make it to where you are more connected to them through your spirit and/or spirit guide.
I realize I’m probably prattling on about nonsensical things right now. I’m pretty sick with either bronchitis or pneumonia and am dosed up on Codeine flavored cough syrup. Regardless of my personal beliefs and opinions, I hope you all, my lovely readers, have a wonderful Yule time or Christmas time. Whatever you celebrate, may the new year bring you peace, joy, love and prosperity. This is my most fervent wish for all of you and for myself as well.