December 21 – December 22
Called Alban Arthur in Welsh which means “Light of Winter”.
The winter solstice is one of the oldest celebrations on earth and marks the shortest day of the year. The sun appears to be in the same low position on the horizon for three days and by the third day (December 25th/Christmas) the sun is “reborn” and begins it’s ascent back into the sky. There have been many sun gods chosen to be born on this day including Horus, Mithra, Krishna and Christ. The Roman Saturnalia as well as the Norse Yule are celebrated at this time and both represent “the light” and maintaining hope and perseverance during what was the darkest time of the year. Many ancient stone circles and monuments align with the winter solstice including Newgrange, Baltray, Stonehenge, Ballynoe, Callanish and Stenness. Not coincidentally, the Irish sun god, the Daghda is associated with Newgrange and was said to have built it. It became tradition to decorate homes in greenery, evergreen, ivy or mistletoe and light candles, physically bringing in life and light to sustain us in the dark. Bringing in and lighting special fire logs representing the light also seems to be a transcendental and cross cultural tradition. The mistletoe in particular has interesting folklore surrounding it and was of course likely sacred to the Druids. The mistletoe grew as a parasitic plant on oak trees and was native to Europe and Britain and thought to have healing properties. It could blossom during the harshest of winters and was therefore viewed as a sign of fertility and continued vivacity which aligns perfectly with the meaning of the winter solstice. The mistletoe’s associations with fertility continued through the middle ages when it became tradition to kiss under the mistletoe during the winter holidays, sometime around the 18th century. If a woman was caught under it, men were allowed to steal a kiss and refusing was viewed as bad luck. Each time this happened, a berry was said to be plucked until all of them were gone and no more kisses were needed to be given.
Ways to Celebrate:
Set up your altar accordingly: Decorate your home or space with seasonal symbols and colors of nature. Common decorations are reindeer, evergreen wreaths & boughs, oak tree, mistletoe, holly, ivy and colors green, white and red. Find unique items that have strong symbology for you. Set up a Winter Solstice tree. I keep my decorations simple and nature based, using many natural or animal ornaments or items that have special meaning for me and my family. Decorate your house with candles or lights, keeping hope and joy alive during the darkest of seasons.
Christmas and New Years: Most pagans do not celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense of what it represents being Christ’s birth. However, many still see it as a time to come together with family that do celebrate, and buy modest or homemade gifts as a reminder of the love felt for them all year long. Of course, it’s almost impossible to not celebrate the traditional New Year’s with the rest of the world and it’s incredible fun, so why not?! We can still recognize the Celtic New Year at Samhain and there is much happiness and meaning in celebrating both.
Take time for yourself: Digress from the busy life of the holiday season. Take some time for yourself, even if only for an hour. When you take care of yourself even in the tiniest of ways, you are astoundingly more capable of helping and being there for others. Take a warm bath with candles.
Create a craft: Make something representative of the season! Make your own advent calendar, wreath or holiday craft!
Connect with others: Prepare a Winter Solstice dinner. Listen to relaxing holiday music. Burn a yule log in the fire. Typically it’s a yule log that has been gifted or is from one’s own yard or land. Light candles. Some common dishes are roasted turkey, salmon, sweet veggies, gingerbread cookies and scones. Enjoy your family and friends. Cook something different you’ve never tried before or try a new wine! Go out to a restaurant you’ve never been too. Call up and meet friends or family you haven’t seen in a while to encourage meaningful and new conversation. Being adventurous in the littlest of ways will help stave off the winter “blues”! Attend a pagan social event. Mark this season with something unique to make it feel like more of a special occasion.
Write in your journal: The winter and darker season is a good time to look inward to yourself, your closest family and friends for comfort. Reflect on your past year, the ups and downs. Think about the best and the worst parts. How can you improve from here? Did anything positive come out of a negative experience? If there was a death or other personal relationship loss, what steps can you take to continue moving forward? If there was a goal you didn’t accomplish, what will help make it happen this coming year?
Make an offering: Make a seasonal mandala with natural objects in a local park or in your own yard. If inclined, you could include bird seed, fruit, berries or nuts for local wildlife in your mandala.
Kindle a bonfire: Have a bonfire outside if possible, although indoors is fine as well if you have a fireplace.
Nature walk and meditation: Take a meditative walk through nature! If so desired, collect natural objects to build crafts at home or add to a winter inspired altar.
“May peace and plenty be at the first to lift the latch on your door and happiness be guided to your home by the candle of Christmas.” -Irish blessing
For more information check out How to Celebrate Winter Solstice by Teresa Villegas!
Writer and Herbalist
A founding member of Discover Druidry, Isla is a writer, photographer and avid gardener. She wrote the Celtic Druidry Handbook: An Evidence Based Guide.