A Blessed Solstice

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 21, 2010 — 25 Comments

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”William Blake

Today* is the Winter Solstice (unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere, then it’s the Summer Solstice), the longest night and shortest day of the year. This year a full lunar eclipse will be visible on the solstice in North America.

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 quotes on our winter observances.

“Virtually all cultures have their own way of acknowledging this moment. The Welsh word for solstice translates as “the point of roughness,” while the Talmud calls it “Tekufat Tevet,” first day of “the stripping time.” For the Chinese, winter’s beginning is “dongzhi,” when one tradition is making balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize family gathering. In Korea, these balls are mingled with a sweet red bean called pat jook. According to local lore, each winter solstice a ghost comes to haunt villagers. The red bean in the rice balls repels him. In parts of Scandinavia, the locals smear their front doors with butter so that Beiwe, sun goddess of fertility, can lap it up before she continues on her journey. (One wonders who does all the mopping up afterward.) Later, young women don candle-embedded helmets, while families go to bed having placed their shoes all in a row, to ensure peace over the coming year.”Richard Cohen, The New York Times

“The winter solstice is a pagan tradition that predates Christian beliefs, according to [Kristan] Cannon-Nixon. “It’s basically a New Year’s (celebration) and the Christian Christmas all rolled into one.”  She said when Sudbury’s pagan community and others interested in their beliefs gather on Dec. 19 at O’Connor Park, the evening will begin with a potluck dinner.  She said feasting together is an ancient tradition.  Following the meal, a ritual takes place, where pagans gather in a circle to pay “respect to the gods.” Cannon-Nixon said the ritual allows pagans to give thanks for the good things in their lives.”Jenny Jelen, Sudbury Northern Life

“The holiday is rooted deeply in the cycle of the year. It is the winter solstice that is being celebrated, seedtime of the year, the longest night and shortest day. It is the birthday of the new Sun King, the Son of God—by whatever name you choose to call him. On this darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives birth. And it makes perfect poetic sense that on the longest night of the winter, “the dark night of our souls”, there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.”Mike Nichols, The Witches’ Sabbats

Light the sky, oh heart, with such bold ray,
That the dark will lose its longing for the day.
Gaze too, upon full moon in earth’s eclipse
And see where self’s long shadow guards the way.

T. Thorn Coyle, Rubaiyat for Winter (excerpt)

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 21st at 23:38 UTC. Which means that it happened at approximately 03:35 PM PST for me. You can calculate the time for your own neck of the woods, here.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Blessed Solstice Jason and all readers of WH.

  • The_L

    Blessed Yule, everyone!

    Did anyone else see the lunar eclipse last night? I specifically got up just to look at it.

    • Cole

      I beheld it, too.

    • No luck over here in the Midwest– the sky was too overcast.

      Thanks to Jason and a happy Solstice to you all.

      • Robin Artisson

        Don't worry. It comes back in 86 years.

    • Pagan Puf Pieces

      I managed to miss the red part, but I saw it in its other phases. I feel pretty happy for doing so, even though I'm now a lot more underslept than before….

    • Thriceraven

      It was beautiful here. I set my alarm to get up and see it. It seemed a darker burnt orange than others I've seen, but I think it was also nearer the zenith than eclipses I've seen before, so that may be why. It was beautiful and clear here and the moon and Orion next to it were stunning. It was a beautiful sight.

    • Khryseis_Astra

      I only got to see it for a split second, just as the shadow was starting to move onto the Moon. It was just too cloudy here last night. I kept checking, but never got more than that little glimpse.

      • sarenth

        I saw it for a few moments then the clouds covered it. Hail Mani!

    • Kevin Norwood

      Myself & some friends saw it we drove 9 hours in the country to see it! It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

    • Yes! I woke up around 12:30, saw there was no rain, and went outside. The sky was the most beautiful deep indigo color, and there were so many stars! The sky and the garden seemed charged with benevolence and mystery. I opened my arms and gestured toward myself many times to draw it into myself.

    • harmonyfb

      We set the alarm and went out to find crystal-clear skies and the most beautiful red moon. 🙂

  • 🙁 No. Too many clouds. 🙁 I tried to watch online from a few different sites, but they all kept crashing!

    But, that doesn't keep me from having a wonderful holiday, a Cool Yule even, and I hope you and yours have a wonderful one as well!

    • sarenth

      Same to you, Lori. Have a Happy Yule!

  • The Eclipse was great from where I was in Atlanta until just a few minutes after full occlusion. Then the cloud cover got too thick and, sadly, I didn't get to see the moon re-emerge.

    As far as the traditions of winter, I wrote about this myself several years ago if the plug doesn't offend: http://badassbard.blogspot.com/2007/12/what-is-ch

  • Skye

    Time to party, have a bonfire, yule log, oath swearing, and to top it all off my Mead is finished and ready to drink! Blessed Yule all!

    Hail Freyr! Hail Thor!

  • Leea

    Happy Yule to all of the WH readers, and to Jason for hosting and writing this lovely blog. Special (good) wishes to Robin, Baruch and Apuleius, for making me think, re-evaluate and often, but not always, re-affirm!

  • caraschulz

    A Bright Solstice to you all! May your omens today be positive.

  • kauko

    I have a bottle of mead and some mulling spices all ready for tonight.

    Hyvää Joulua!

    • sarenth

      Ooh. That does sound good.

  • I didn't get to see it, too overcast, but I caught a glimpse of the moon through a crack in my curtains a few hours later when I woke up. It made me happy. <3

    This was supposedly the first time in over 450 years that a lunar eclipse has fallen on the winter solstice. All who got to see it were very lucky indeed.

  • We opened our Yule celebration last night and will continue it thru the New Years. We saw the first half of the eclipse just after our Yule log lighting ritual….then it clouded up and rained thru the totality period. I stayed up tending the fire and when the rain stopped, I got to see the moon re-appear, 3/4 revealed again and watched the end.

    The son will hold a Freyr blot next weekend and the celebration will continue!

    Solstice Blessings to all!

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Glad Yule!

  • Have a Blessed Yule/Winter Solstice everyone. I also watched the lunar eclipse. The sky was totally clear, no clouds or rain.

  • Ursyl

    Our UU circle's celebration on Saturday evening was one type of special and lovely. The local ADF Grove's celebration tonight was another type of special and lovely.

    May everyone's Solstice and Yule be special and lovely.