I look forward to December 21st, the shortest day of the year. You can have your countdown to Christmas, but I count down to longer days of daylight. I’m solar powered and revel in abundant light. I love to work and play from dawn to dusk, and the later dusk arrives, the better!
The shortest day of the year occurs in the Northern Hemisphere on December 21 or 22. It’s when the least amount of light reaches the earth. The term solstice comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and stare (to stand). So winter solstice means the sun has reached its southernmost ecliptic, making it appear to stand still. It is said December 25th was chosen to celebrate Christmas to offset pagan celebrations in favor of celebrating the “true light of the world”. I look forward to celebrating the fact I have made it half way through the winter. I’m kidding myself, because here winter is just beginning and will last at least another four months. On the other hand, I consider the excitement of it only being four months until fresh produce will be once again available. Parsnips, fiddleheads, and dandelion greens immediately come to mind. It is a time of rebirth. A time when we can reflect on what has been and look forward to new opportunities.
Winter solstice is in many cultures and religions, a time of celebration and the traditions associated with it vary by region. Some people will go into deep hibernation in the nighttime on this day to meditate on spiritual needs and reflect on the Yule bringing the “return of light after darkness”, and with it great blessings. Some will take part in burning bonfires or making sacrifices to the Sun God.
Yule is the German celebration of Winter Solstice, which resulted in what has become reformulated as Christmas. Food plays an important role. Cookies and caraway cakes soaked in cider, fruits, nuts, pork pies, ginger brews, wassail or eggnog. A creation known as lamb’s wool is made from ale, nutmeg, sugar, and roasted apples. If none of that is appealing, perhaps, you would like mulled wine, oranges, or apples.
Wassail is a traditional drink for celebrating Yule, or specifically, the blessing of trees. I found this recipe and other interesting Yule recipes on recipesforapagansoul.weebly.com
Heat 3 or 4 pints of ale or beer. Add to this:
½ c sugar
¼ c of mixed spices, or a few cinnamon sticks and whole cloves
2 or 3 sm. Apples, chopped
1 ¼ c pineapple juice
1 ¼ c orange juice
Juice of 2 lemons
Heat over a low flame. Before it begins to boil, remove from heat and float on top of the spiced ale, whipped cream. Transfer to a serving bowl for presentation.
Serve up mugs of this fine Wassail and go out to a tree, traditionally a fruit-bearing tree, and pour some of the Wassail to wet the tree’s roots and drink the rest.
While you’re drinking and blessing, lift your glass to the tree and loudly shout “Huzzah”! (I knew you’d love that!)
Here’s to thee, old apple tree, Whence thou may’st bud and whence thou may’st blow,
And whence thou may’st bear apples enow, Hats, full, bushel, sacks full, and my pockets full!
Celebrating the Winter Solstice on December 13 (Julian calendar) is more common in Sweden where the celebration is known as Saint Lucy or Saint Lucia Day. It is derived from stories told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden. The family’s eldest daughter dresses in a white dress with a red sash and wearing a candle-adorned, wreath on her head, carries to her parents, a tray of coffee and lussekatter, (“Lucy cat” and refers to sweet bread) and pepparkakor (pepper cookies), also known as Swedish ginger thins. This tradition represents St. Lucia who is said to have secretly brought food to persecuted Christians in Rome, hiding in the catacombs.
In the United States, celebrating the Winter Solstice tends to be scattered. I can remember Swedish friends celebrating it. I have been known to make a chocolate Yule log, representing the German wooden log. This is a tradition I should resurrect. For now, I am content with a mug of mulled wine, a roaring, fireplace fire, and a cozy comforter pulled up close. This is a time to take advantage of winter as an opportunity to slow down and quiet my mind, as I look forward to creating a kinder, gentler world.
How do you celebrate Winter Solstice?