A Blessed Solstice

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 21, 2011 — 22 Comments

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:  it is the time for home.”Edith Sitwell

Tonight and tomorrow (depending on where you live) is the Winter Solstice (unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere, then it’s the Summer Solstice), traditionally thought to be the longest night and shortest day of the year (though not actually).

A view of Winter from Eugene, Oregon.
A view of Winter from Eugene, Oregon.

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.

“But all this playful artifice had a very serious underside, a brooding quality designed to carry us across the threshold of the winter solstice. These are the dark days, the short days, the cold days in the northern hemisphere. Yet before this festival was finished (another reason, perhaps, for defending the full week’s celebration) the days began to lengthen again. That astronomic fact may be the secret to understanding the symbolics of the thing in any case.”Louis A. Ruprecht, Religion Dispatches

“[Alison] Skelton, 52, is daughter of the late University of Victoria poet Robin Skelton, who identified as a witch in his later years. From her father, Skelton, a psychic and painter, learned of the power of being transformed by the “spell-like qualities” of both art and Earth-based paganism. Skelton maintains pagans were originators of common Christmas customs involving star-topped evergreen trees (with the lights signifying “spirit”) and seasonal gift-giving (“to redistribute wealth”). “Pagan traditions are focused on the sacredness of nature. At Yule we want to encourage the light to return” from out of the creative darkness, says Skelton.”Doug Todd, The Vancouver Sun

“For millennia winter has been a time for festivals and meaningful celebrations, so “happy holidays” encompasses multiple traditions. This year I was invited to join in a different holiday tradition – the yule log in celebration of winter solstice, when the sun slowly lengthens its daily presence. After an offering was given for its gift, this locally harvested log had little holes drilled in it to receive slips of paper with the participants’ hopes for the coming year. Once filled, the log is burned and voices lift in song. My invitation came from a kind-eyed Wicca priestess with a warm home and lovely holiday tree topped with a pointy hat, although Yule isn’t restricted to Wiccan tradition.” Sholeh Patrick, Coeur d’Alene Press

“From Europe to Asia, this ebbing and timid returning of the light is celebrated and longed for. In Scandinavian and Germanic countries around this time they celebrate Saint Lucia, bedecking a chosen girl in white robes with a blood-red sash and sending her around to work healing miracles. Belgium is home to the Koleduvane festival, which celebrates the birth of the sun. And Poland has the festival of Gody, during which people forgive one another and share food.”Indian Country Today Media Network

“The winter solstice gives us the opportunity to connect to our past and the earth. We should welcome both. Our past includes our pagan ancestors who deified the earth and its elements, its seasons, its natural forces. They understood the earth and belonged to it in a way that modern humankind has largely forgotten.”Will Moredock, Charleston City Paper

In addition to these written odes to the season, I also encourage to listen to a special seasonal song written and performed by T. Thorn Coyle, available for download at  Bandcamp (on a somewhat lighter note, Celtic folk-rock band Emerald Rose’s seasonal ditty “Santa Claus Is Pagan Too” is now available as a free MP3 download). No matter what your religion or tradition, may this year’s winter celebrations and observances bring you peace and joy!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Tara

    Hope everyone has a magical Solstice.

  • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind a little more ‘winter’ in my winter solstice this year, it’s supposed to be 70 degrees here tomorrow!

    • Thelettuceman

      Uuugh. I’m sorry. :/ I don’t like the cold, but I do like it to be appropriately seasonable. I know exactly how you feel.

    • Nick Ritter

      Come to Minnesota. We’ve got winter to spare.

      And as I started typing these words, snow started falling outside.

      • Anonymous

        heh. It’s snowing/sleeting/hailing here in Maine as well.

        • WhiteBirch

          I really do wish it would stop, my tires are bald! (Hello fellow Mainer!)

        • Thelettuceman

          Just rain here in New York. >_<

          • Lonespark

            Boston Metro, too. Yesterday was wintry, though.

      • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

        Funny you should say that, I’ve been looking into going back to school (to study Finnish, no surprise there, right?) and Minnesota is on the top of my current list, of course, there aren’t that many places to study Finnish. Most people dream of moving somewhere warmer, but silly me dreams of moving someplace where there is real winter. :)

        • Merofled Ing

          Ahh – Finland in winter – snow, and forest and snowy roads and northern lights. Must be the 0.0000000001% of folkish relic in me that makes me understand what you’re saying, that bit that makes me immune to cold and causes this fraction-of-a-second stopping-dead-in-my-tracks when I can smell the snow as in sleet, or snow as under a blazing sun in icy wind, or powdery snow on a very very cold dry night … (I know, i know, Vikings were a different lot from ancient Finlanders – but the saw the same lights and felt the same snow …)

          A blessed solstice to you all, as we’re nearing midnight here, and sunrise at 8.25, and longer days to come.

    • Mia

      I hear you, we’re supposed to have a harsh winter this year in Chicago, BUT THERE’S STILL NO STINKING SNOW.

  • http://www.magickal-media.com Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

    Have a blessed and wonderful Solstice / braw Alban Arthan / merry Yule!

  • Anonymous

    Have a wonderful and Blessed Winter Solstice/Yule. Whatever you celebrate may your holidays be bright and happy.

  • Daniel SnowKestral

    The time of Samhain-tide has reached its peak. Now Mean Geimreidh (Mid-Winter) is here! The longest night and shortest day of the year! May everyone have a very Blessed Yule, Saturnalia, Sol Invictis, Mithramas, Alban Arthuan–a very Merry Mean Geimhreidh (pronounced: Me-yawn Gevh-reh)! And, too, Abhlaiain Faoi Wasadh! Or: Happy New Years!

    We just had a dusting of snow last night, but it is very cold here in Washington State, and, around here, it looks just like picture posted in Oregon!

    As well, the Winter Solstice is marked by the Sidhe Mound Newgrange, or Bru na Boinne, which is a 5,400 years old. In Gaelic Myth, it is the home of the God Angus Mac Og, a God of Love, Beauty, and Light. Hence a connection to the young Sun/Son, born on the Winter Solstice! And the God Lugh, like the Maponos/Mabon, is an expression of the archetypal Child of Light

  • Kilmrnock

    Tis yule eve here now , raining , mid atlantic east coast. Just want to wish you all a cool Yule , Happy Solstice , Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas whatever you and yours celibrates , tis Solstice for us . Be Well, have a Happy Holidays my friends. Kilm

  • Lori F – MN

    Finally got a dusting of snow. Probably won’t last til Sunday or even Saturday. Bummer.

  • Stef

    God Jul, good folks! :-)

  • Nahemah

    Prehistoric peoples in Scotland and Wales also celebrated.There is more to our land mass than England and Ireland,you know.Just saying.

  • http://www.blackpagan.com/ lynn

    Blessed solstice to everyone!

    Here is a nice photo essay on Huffington Post with pics from England, Sweden, China, Mexico and a bunch of other places where people are celebrating the return of the sun:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/19/winter-solstice-2011_n_1156526.html

    • Tara

      Beautiful, thanks for sharing this!

  • http://heksebua.com Linda Ursin

    A wonderful Solstice celebration to you, and everyone else :) I’m just about to start mine.

  • Holli Emore

    What a treat to see my old friend Will Moredock quoted here! Will published my first journalistic attempts back in the early 90s.