We may associate the Winter Solstice with the onset of hard winter, but since it is literally the point at which the Sun turns from its fall into darkness back into gaining light, it was, and is, celebrated around the world as a good and positive time.

It was the time when Virgin mothers give birth to sacred sons: Rhiannon to Pryderi: Isis to Horus; Demeter to Persephone; Jesus to Mary. The birth of Horus was celebrated about December 23, shortly after Winter Solstice.

In Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses met on the two solstices.

The word solstice derives from Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still) but the Sun won’t stand still today. There is an instant when the Sun’s position in the sky is at its greatest angular distance on the other side of the equatorial plane from the observer’s hemisphere, and that is the actual solstice. But most people mark the solstices as a day, not a moment.

The declination of the Sun on our northern winter solstice is known as the Tropic of Capricorn.

The seasonal significance of this winter solstice is with the gradually lengthening days and shortening nights which occurs with today. The winter solstice occurs some time between December 21 and December 22 each year in the northern hemisphere (it depends on the shift of the calendar) and between June 20 and June 21 in the southern hemisphere.

You can call this the shortest day or the longest night of the year. Today is one of the shortest days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and it is the day when there is no sunlight at the North Pole.


The Holly King

The Holly King frequently appears as a woodsy version of Santa Claus with a red outfit and sprigs of holly in his tangled hair. He was depicted as driving a team of eight stags.

In many Celtic-based traditions of neopaganism, there is the enduring legend of the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. The Oak King is portrayed as a fertility god, and occasionally appears as the Green Man or other lord of the forest.

These two mighty rulers fight for supremacy as the Wheel of the Year turns each season. The tradition is that at the  Yule/ Winter Solstice, the Oak King kills the Holly King, and then reigns until Litha (or Midsummer).

I would have guessed that the Holly King rules the winter but when Litha arrives, the Holly King returns to do battle with the old king and then defeats him and rules until Yule.

Solstices are one of the oldest known holidays in human history. Anthropologists believe that solstice celebrations go back at least 30,000 years. Though many people associate them with harvests and agrarian celebrations, that dating puts it even before humans were farming on a large scale.

The Druids would be chanting as the solstice dawn approached at Stonehenge and the event may have had meaning even in neolithic times. Astronomical events triggered the mating of animals, the sowing of crops and how people monitored their winter reserves between harvests.

The remains of sites such as Stonehenge in Britain and New Grange in Ireland show that the primary axes of both of these monuments are aligned on a sight-line. New Grange points to the winter solstice sunrise, and the winter solstice sunset is aligned at Stonehenge.

Because the worst times, the famine months, came from January to April, the solstice was a kind of celebration before the hard winter began. Cattle were slaughtered, not merely to celebrate, but because they might not be able to be fed during the winter. Fresh meat plus the wine and beer made during the year was fermented and ready for drinking at this time.

If you are in a mood to celebrate tonight, put out some evergreens, bright illumination, a big fire, some feasting foods, invite the family and loved ones and dance and sing. Sounds a lot like a our modern holiday season parties.

Not to throw a scientific wet towel on the party, but just to let you know that as the Earth travels around the Sun in its orbit, the north-south position of the Sun changes over the course of the year. That is because of the changing orientation of the Earth’s tilted rotation axes with respect to the Sun. When we arrive at the points of maximum tilt (marked at the equator), we get the summer and winter solstice.

Correspondingly, the points of zero tilt are our vernal/spring and autumnal equinoxes.