A Blessed Solstice

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 22, 2007 — 6 Comments

Today* is the Winter Solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year.


Sun Halo at Winter Solstice

This time of year is held sacred by many modern Pagan and Heathen traditions, and has a rich history in ancient pagan religion.

The solstice time was marked as special by pre-historic peoples in both Ireland and England. While there is scant evidence of specific celebrations, it is generally thought that the pagan Celts did mark the solstice time.

Germanic pagans and modern Heathens celebrate Yule at this time. During this holiday the god Freyr was honored. Several traditions we associate with Christmas (eating a ham, hanging holly, mistletoe) come from Yule.

The ancient pagan Romans celebrated Saturnalia which typically ran from December 17th through the 23rd. The festival honored the god Saturn and featured lavish parties and role-reversals. From Saturnalia we can see the traditions of exchanging gifts and decorating evergreen trees indoors that would be adopted as Christmas traditions. Following Saturnalia were the birth celebrations in honor of Sol Invictus (the unconquered sun) and Mithras both held on December 25th.

Many modern Pagans, including Wiccans, Witches, several Druidic traditions, and their many off-shoots hold this time as one of the eight Sabbats/holy days. Usually called Winter Solstice or Yule. It is a time when many of these traditions celebrate the re-birth of the god by the mother goddess.

Here are some recent press quotes on our winter observances.

“Shops catering to pagan customers have been busy selling items which are familiar to any Christian, including candles, incense, and scents like frankincense and myrhh. The similarities between Christmas and solstice are widely attributed to the fact that both festivals are really a celebration of life.”CBC News

“Solstice celebrations began with pre-Roman Empire pagans and were centered around agriculture, food, nature and the cyclical seasons of the universe, Burton said. Romans exchanged candles and figurines in celebration. In 274 A.D., Christians in the Roman Empire adopted some of the solstice’s pagan traditions (also known then as The Unconquered Sun) in an effort to convert pagans to their religion. Anglo Saxon Christians in the Middle Ages did the same.”Jennifer Crossley, The Times Daily

“Traditionally the log that celebrated Yule – a name that may have been derived from an old word for wheel, as the wheel of the year turned – was big enough to light 12 days of feasting. A fragment would be saved to light next year’s log, symbolizing continuity and rebirth. We still light our homes and neighborhoods in an effort to bring cheer against the gathering gloom of deepest winter.”Michael Babcock, Great Falls Tribune

“Celebrating during the darkest days of the year near the winter solstice goes back to ancient times, Blackmer said, when people met for large feasts and placed evergreens in their homes. It is these original traditions that interest Mike Morse of Gaithersburg, who attended the ceremony Tuesday. Many people don’t realize that Christmas has roots in such ancient practices, Morse said. The coming of the light to world, whether literally or metaphorically in the Christian sense, ‘is all a take off from the [winter] solstice,’ he said. ‘This kind of experience seeks to take back the wonder and awe of the coming of light.'”Katherine Mullen, The Business Gazette

“What has become of our holy Saturnalia, fellow pagans? I go into my local Wal-Mart, greeted by all the familiar holly and ivy of yore, and am welcomed not with the rousing “Io, Saturnalia!” of simpler times, but with some made-up newfangled, supposedly “non-offensive” substitute: this “Christ-Mass” thing.”Garrett Eisler, The Huffington Post

No matter what your religion or tradition, may this year’s winter celebrations and observances bring you peace and joy!

* The Winter Solstice happens on December 22nd at 06:08 UTC. Which means that it happened at approximately 12:08 AM CST for me. You can calculate the time for your own neck of the woods, here.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Erik

    And to you as well!

  • Cat Chapin-Bishop

    Woo-hoo! We get to exist at times of year other than Samhain now? Hooray!*wry grin*Seriously, it _is_ good to get a little bit of press coverage that acknowledges that Pagans might celebrate at other times of year than Halloween. (I always have real sympathy for my Jewish neighbors, being wished a “Happy Hannukah” a week or more after that holiday has ended, but going without any acknowledgement at all of holidays like Yom Kippur or Passover, simply because the level of knowledge most Christians have of others’ beliefs and practices is so very shallow. Here’s to depth, wherever we find them. And Happy Yule to the Wild Hunt Blog, and all its readers. :)

  • Robin Edgar

    Here is some additional depth to winter solstice celebrations for you to consider – A good photograph of a total solar eclipse would have been very appropriate for illustrating an article about the winter solstice. Our ancient ancestors transferred religious concepts and symbolism that were inspired by the spectacular “death” and “rebirth” of the sun during total solar eclipses onto the winter solstice which, although a considerably less spectacular “death” and “rebirth” of the sun, was a rather more predictable and annually recurring one. . . The ancient Egyptians celebrated the birthday of their solar falcon god Horus during the winter solstice. This ancient petroglyph carved into the “Stone of the Seven Suns” kerbstone from the winter solstice sunset aligned megalithic “passage grave” at Dowth, Ireland, is almost certainly a prehistoric representation of a total solar eclipse. It is virtually identical to a drawing of the 1841 total solar eclipse done by a 19th century astronomer. This indicates that the prehistoric people of Ireland saw and responded to the striking similarity of the totally eclipsed sun to a gigantic cosmic eye staring down from the sky. Even modern professional astronomers have been moved to call the total solar eclipse “the Eye of God”. It seems that Dowth may have even been used to try to predict future appearances of the total solar eclipse “Eye of God” in that it may also be aligned with a “standstill” point of the moon.In any case there is plenty of available evidence that the winter solstice celebrations of ancient human beings were informed by, if not originally inspired by, the much more awe-inspiring “death and “rebirth” of the sun during total solar eclipses.

  • spectral_ev

    I was with a group that drummed the sunrise and danced around a holy bonfire. good way to start the day.

  • wordpress

    It is great to see a site supporting our sabots. I posted on my blog explaining the meanings behind the traditions, may of which (if not all) have been appropriated by Christian culture. Last night we celebrated Yule by decorating and wassailing the tree with friends and family. It was a great even. And of course we let the bayberry candles burn all the way down. Happy Yule!

  • Tracie the Red

    Glad Yule – which lasts for 12 days!!