Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Solstice - a grand time of the year!

At last the shortest day of the year - a time of celebration and good cheer. The sun is coming back - the days are getting longer - there is hope of spring again - though we have plenty of rain, wind and cold weather - at least is is better than two years ago, when our world here in NW WA was covered in two feet of snow and more was coming down. This year had a spectacular event in the wee hours of the morning - a full moon, and a full lunar eclipse at the time of solstice. This will occur again in 2094 and hasn't occured since the 1600s - a rare treat indeed.

This is one of the favorite celebrations in our family - some are making "sun" cookies with yellow frosting - some are making art that reminds them of spring and sunshine - others are simply enjoying nature and thinking of the good things that have passed through our lives this past year.

Newgrange, in Ireland (Irish: DĂșn Fhearghusa) is one of the passage tombs in County Meath, one of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world and the most famous of all Irish prehistoric sites.

Newgrange was built in such a way that at dawn on the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, a narrow beam of sunlight for a very short time illuminates the floor of the chamber at the end of the long passageway. This light lasts for 17 minutes on the day of the Winter Solstice. There are many prehistoric sites around the world that are also engineered in this manner.

The Roman midwinter holiday, Saturnalia, was both a gigantic fair and a festival of the home. Merry-making took place, and the halls of houses were decked with boughs of laurel and evergreen trees. Lamps were kept burning to ward off the spirits of darkness. Schools were closed. Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewelry, and incense. Temples were decorated with evergreens symbolizing life's continuity. Many of our modern Christmas traditions were taken from Solstice celebrations.

In pagan Scandinavia the winter festival was the yule (or juul). Great yule logs were burned, and people drank mead around the bonfires listening to minstrel-poets singing ancient legends. It was believed that the yule log had the magical effect of helping the sun to shine more brightly.

Yule log

A Scandinavian Yule tree - lit with candles.

Mistletoe, which was sacred because it mysteriously grew on the most sacred tree, the oak, was ceremoniously cut and a spray given to each family, to be hung in the doorways as good luck. The celtic Druids also regarded mistletoe as sacred. Druid priests cut it from the tree on which it grew, with a golden sickle, and handed it to the people, calling it All-Heal. To hang it over a doorway or in a room was to offer goodwill to visitors. Kissing under the mistletoe was a pledge of friendship. Mistletoe still has a special place in our Christmas celebrations.

There are great traditions to build on and enjoy this time of year. A wreath is a good place to start - a symbol of the circle of a year. After making the wreath and making wishes for the coming year - it can be placed outdoors. After the new year the wreath can be recycled back to nature - or it can be saved and burned in the Summer Solstice bonfire.

If you like - add some pine cones spread with pnut butter and rolled in bird seeds - to welcome our feathered friends to our homes.

Making desserts is a great way to celebrate - and add birthday candles to the dessert - which often might have the shape of a sun on it. Each family member can light one candle and give a thankful thought about the past year - or a hopeful thought for the coming year.

Big fires in the fireplace - or burning candles if you are not so fortunate to have a fireplace - are both symbolic of the soltice celebration - calling to the sun to come back and shine stronger for a spring and summer of growing food.

Gift giving is a wondeful tradition on the Solstice - either opening one of the many gifts under the tree - or having special gifts in a basket to share with family and friends on this wonderful day.

And baskets of food are often taken to friends and family as part of the Solstice celebration. Don't forget some of those sunny cookies.

And of course singing is a great part of any Solstice celebration - Deck the Halls, and Carol of the Bells are two very significant songs sung at this time of the year. Reminders of our connection with nature and our connection to our past and to our future.

We find many of our holiday celebrations come from variations of the ancient celebrations - bringing us all closer together, sharing our celebrations with one another.

Happy Solstice to all - we'd love to hear about your Solstice celebrations.


Sunny said...

Wow, Jo! You are such a wealth of information .... very interesting! I did not know , even though I am of Irish decent. Thanks for sharing.

Rowan said...

I'd love to visit Newgrange for the Solstice but apparently the waiting list is ten miles long and only a few people are actually given the chance to be inside. I really like those pine cone candles, they are so pretty - the cookies look good too:)

Yolanda said...

I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Solstice.

Dena said...

Until I read today's post, I didn't know the history of Solstice and how it relates to the traditions we celebrate today. Thanks for sharing Jo!

A Garden of Threads said...

Oh my Jo, that was fabulous. So full of information. I went to Newgrange when we visited Ireland in the spring. Very interesting. We are now on the upswing to spring! Yah. Take care.

Nanci said...

Oh Jo, I had no idea of these traditions! A keeper of information today for sure.
Enjoy the holidays.
Merry Christmas.

Crispy said...

It boggles my mind how many hours it must take you to research and type up these wonderful informative posts :0)


Sharyn Mallow Woerz said...

When you see Linda, please give her a hug for me.

A friend gave me a bottle of Honey Mead this week, can't wait to try it. He says it is sweet and he mixes it with wine or soda.

all the best of the season, Sharyn

Lili said...

So many wonderful traditions all around the world to celebrate this exciting time of year. Those pine cone candles are so pretty. I love the idea of your family's "sun" cookie baking tradition! ~Lili