The shortest day of the year approaches. A time when the darkness dominates and the land slumbers under a coat of fallen leaves. The earth deepens into a silent frozen stillness, growth slows down, the plants and trees withdraw. The wind is chilly and fog clings to the hills like a veil of frozen vapour. This is the solstice, a death point, a still point before the rebirth of the Sun. In the northern hemisphere, the Earth rests.
In the UK the winter solstice is eclipsed by our Christmas celebrations full of lights. Yet these two festivals have more in common than it first seems. The pagan Scandinavian and Germanic people of northern Europe celebrated a twelve-day "midwinter" (winter solstice) holiday called Yule. Some of the modern Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, the wreath and the Yule log are remnants of Yule customs still inscribed in our psyches.
In Co. Meath, Ireland our Neolithic ancestors built an amazing temple where the winter solstice plays a starring role. As the sun rises on the shortest day the sun’s rays penetrate and creep up a dark rock passage and into a stone womb where they illuminate a triple spiral etched onto the ancient rock. A metaphoric virgin birth perhaps?
The winter solstice (which this year is on Wednesday 21st December) is a time to deepen into the last darkness before we share our abundance, feast and welcome back the first sparks of new light. The earth is resting, gestating – it’s all happening inside. Deep within the womb of the earth new life stirs ready to be awakened by the warming rays of the Sun. Even us busy humans get to rest, feast and celebrate together at this time of year (mostly).
I love the winter solstice, for me it’s a festival of hope and renewal. Maybe for you too? Or maybe it could be? What ceremony would you create to mark this time? Maybe you want to consider what needs to be sparked in you for 2017? What smoldering coals need to be kindled so they can flame into manifestation as the winter squeezes an icy grip? Do you spend time in introspection, looking inwards, using the dark as a scrying mirror to see into yourself? Do you rest and explore your inner world or is life all happening “out there”?
Maybe for you it’s a simple matter of remembering to visit your local woods to witness the frosts. Or helping the birds winter with a few balls of accessibly placed fat. Whatever lights you up, whatever renews your light from dark to illumination, go do it on the 21st and remember the promise of the winter solstice – everything that dies will be re-born.
Happy Yuletide everyone.
By Alexandra Hatfield
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