Richard Heinberg, author of Celebrate the Solstice: Honoring the Earth’s Seasonal Rhythms through Festival and Ceremony (Quest Books, 1993) describes the solstices as “times of danger and opportunity; times for special alertness and aliveness.” In Iran, families often kept fires burning all night to assist the battle between the light and dark forces. In ancient Rome, where it was called Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, or the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun, masters even celebrated as equals with their slaves. Throughout history, celebrating the solstice has been a way to renew our connection with each other and with the numinous through acts of goodwill, special rituals, and heightened awareness.
Here’s an Irish poem :
Thu laighe síos an cuan na díth
Gun díobhail is gun sgáth;
Thu ‘g éirigh suas air stuagh na síth,
Mar ríoghainn óg fo bhláth.
[Our/My] own welcome to you, Sun of the seasons,
As you walk the height of your sky;
Your steps are strong upon your ascent,
You are the joyful mother of the stars.
You settle down in the sea of destruction,
Without harm and without fear;
You rise up on the peaceful arc,
As a young queen in bloom.
– Carmina Gadelica Vol III no 317, translated by Chris Godwin
and, from Wikipedia:
“The Winter Solstice, also known as Midwinter, occurs around December 21 or 22 each year in the Northern hemisphere, and June 20 or 21 in the Southern Hemisphere. It occurs on the shortest day or longest night of the year, sometimes said to astronomically mark the beginning or middle of a hemisphere’s winter. The word solstice derives from Latin, Winter Solstice meaning Sun set still in winter. Worldwide, interpretation of the event varies from culture to culture, but most hold a recognition of rebirth, involving festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations. Many cultures celebrate or celebrated a holiday near the winter solstice; examples of these include Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years, Pongal, Yalda and many other festivals of light. The solstice itself may have remained a special moment of the annual cycle of the year since neolithic times. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archeological sites like Stonehenge and New Grange in the British Isles. The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line framing the winter solstice sunrise (New Grange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). The winter solstice may have been immensely important because communities were not assured to live through the winter, and had to be prepared during the previous nine months. Starvation was common in winter between January to April, also known as the famine months. In temperate climes, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was nearly the only time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time. The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the beginning of the pre-Romanized day, which falls on the previous eve.”
– Winter Solstice – Wikipedia
Wendy Andrew art – In the Arms of Grace
and from Patricia Monaghan, in her book Singing with Deer:
“At solstice, the woods were bright in a snowy way, the sky pearl gray above the stately maples and gnarled burr oaks. An Alaskan marooned in the urban Midwest, it took me years to find this nearby patch of relatively undisturbed land where I can sense the power of wildness. Now I go there often, watching the seasons unfold their changeful unchanging patterns in the increasingly familiar forest.
**I especially like to walk among the sleeping trees in the half-lit silence of winter dawns. The trail I follow winds and twists, new patches of mixed woodland appearing at every turn. That morning, I reached a point where the path turns sharply left to follow a small ravine. In spring, ephemeral ponds—lively with salamanders, loud with frogs—form in the creases of the forest there. But in frozen winter, I expected nothing beyond silence and wind.
So I did not see them at first, three deer beside three empty larches. When I made them out—gray-dun hides against a gray-dun world—they were motionless, white tails aloft like flags of distress. I stopped in my tracks, thinking how lucky I was to meet the animal my Celtic forebears called the spirit of wildness on that auspicious day.”
– Patricia Monaghan, Singing with Deer