What is the Winter Solstice?
The Winter Solstice is a celebration that marks a specific time of the year when, on December 21st, the Northern Hemisphere witnesses the shortest day and the longest night. Darkness is at its longest. On this day we celebrate the darkness that has been and was necessary and the tiny flicker of light that is to come.
What does this mean for us?
Around this time, most people hear or are subject to seasonal depression. When people are experiencing lower moods and seasonal depression, it often can feel very hopeless. The days are shorter and the nights are longer. But, as we come to and pass the 21st of December, hope with the light returns. With each new day the light remains for longer, and the nights shorten, and we find ourselves filled with more joy, as we are each filled up with more sunlight. The planted seeds actually turn towards that sunlight and look up. That is one wonderful reason to celebrate the Winter Solstice. We have made it through the toughest time of the year.
There is often confusion about the difference between Yule and Winter Solstice. Some people tend to use these words interchangeably; however, there is a difference! The Winter Solstice, as mentioned before, is a Pagan celebration of the longest night and shortest day. Yule, however, is a specific time and traditionally seen as a Scandinavian celebration. It marks the point when the light begins to strengthen once again. As you see, these two are connected and can be celebrated together.
The Winter Solstice and Christmas celebrations? Yes, they are very similar!
To celebrate the Winter Solstice, we often gather and decorate our homes with pine, wreaths, holly, evergreen, candles, and mistletoe! In our modern times, these decorations are most popularly associated with Christmas. So, then why does the Winter Solstice use the same decorations? Well, the Winter Solstice is a long-held global Pagan celebration, dating back to the Neolithic period in 10,200 BC.
Pagans, a term used to describe ‘rural folk’, were typically from Northern Europe and Britain but apply everywhere. Pagans celebrated the Winter Solstice and Yule, to witness the passing of the longest night and shortest day, which, without a doubt, was much harder to endure back then and the coming of the sunshine…
Overtime, Christianity swept through, and Pagan traditions for celebrating the Winter Solstice as a rite of passage became a more Christianized tradition known as Christmas.
Another recognizable signifier of Christmas are the reindeer. For Christmas, jolly old Santa Claus brings toys to all the good children across the world, with the help of seemingly strong, male reindeer. But, as some may know, it is the female reindeer who keep their antlers during the winter time.
So, where does this association of reindeer and Christmas come from? There are many myths, stories, and cultural significance for the reindeer. During the Neolithic period, reindeer were widespread, spanning across the British Isles, Scandinavia, Russia, Siberia, and across the land bridge of the Bering Strait. Throughout these parts, there are many iterations of stories of a female reindeer, with her antlers remaining during winter, flying down south to retrieve the sun goddess and restoring the sun and warmth to the Northern Hemisphere. The reindeer is called Deer Mother, or Mother Deer.
The Yule Log
The Yule Log is a central decorative piece that helps celebrate the Winter Solstice and Yule. Although modern creations have morphed the Yule log into a cake, the Yule log is quite simply a tree log with candles inserted into the log. Decorations are placed around the Yule log, and it is lit during the time when more light begins to creep into our lives. It is a celebration of more light and more hope to come.
However, long before that cake iteration, the Yule log was simply a large log or even an entire tree that was placed on the hearth for fire, giving light and warmth to the home, and celebrating more light from the sun was soon to come.
The Yule log was even thought to be lucky and a protection against nature’s harsh elements.
Let us thank Mother Earth!
The Winter Solstice is a beautiful and important time around the world. To be still, quiet and to listen to the earth. I find myself reflecting and giving thanks to nature. I am thankful for this darkness, as it allowed me to rest and be calm. I am thankful for the light and the coming of more lightness that each and every day will bring. The world and the earth goes through drastic change, and she has, and is, incredibly resilient. So, take the time this Winter Solstice to reflect upon our earth and what we can do for her in return. Celebrate Her.
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Bibliography and more information
Winter Solstice decorations
History of Christmas
Origins of the Winter Solstice
Winter Solstice overview
A children’s story of Deer Mother