The first day of winter official crept in at 10:59 EST when the sun briefly touched the Tropic of Capricorn and immediately reverses her course. The winter solstice signals the inevitable return of the sun’s light as we climb out of the darkest stretch of the year. Here in New York City, the day is just 9 hours and 15 minutes long with the sun rise at 7:18 AM, its lowest point in the sky, and will set at 4:33 PM For the past six months, we’ve watched the sun gradually sink lower in the sky with each passing day, causing shadows to elongate and daylight hours to continually shrink. Starting Wednesday, the day will be a scant two seconds longer, according to TimeandDate.com. But come early January, daylight will increase by about a minute per day, with most of the additional light tacked on to the evening. Think of it this way: Although the winter solstice means the start of winter, it also means the return of more sunlight. It only gets brighter from here!
The solstice has been celebrated since ancient times by cultures around our planet. From the Roman feast of Saturnalia to the pre-Christian festival of Norse jól or Juul observed in Scandinavia, there are many ways our ancestors honored the first day of winter. One famous ancient marker is Stonehenge in England. Due to the alignment of the stones, experts acknowledge that the design appears to correspond with the solstices. One theory is that the area was used as a temple to worship the Sun and/or as a type of astronomical observatory.
Winter Solstice is often refereed to as Mid-Winter, since it is midway between the autumnal and vernal equinoxes. It is one of the eight holidays, or Sabbats, that are held sacred by Wiccans and Pagans around the world. In Celtic traditions it is the battle between the young Oak King and the Holly King:
the Oak King and the Holly King are seen as dual aspects of the Horned God. Each of these twin aspects rules for half the year, battles for the favor of the Goddess, and then retires to nurse his wounds for the next six months, until it is time for him to reign once more.
Often, these two entities are portrayed in familiar ways – the Holly King frequently appears as a woodsy version of Santa Claus. He dresses in red, wears a sprig of holly in his tangled hair, and is sometimes depicted driving a team of eight stags. The Oak King is portrayed as a fertility god, and occasionally appears as the Green Man or other lord of the forest.
The re-enactment of the battle is popular in some Wiccan rituals.
As we prepare for the longest night, we decorate our homes with red, green and white, holly, ivy, evergreen and pine cones. We honor the solar year with light. We place candles in the windows facing the North, South, East and West to ward off the darkness and celebrate the return of the sun/ With the setting sun, fires are lit in hearths and fire pits and kept burning to keep us warm until Sol returns at dawn.
There is food a plenty, roasts and stews and winter vegetables and sweets, chocolate and peppermint candy, apples and oranges and sweet breads. All these reminding us of the last harvest, the gifts of Gaia, Mother Earth and the hunts by Hern of the Wild Hunt. Of course there will be honeyed and spiced wine and hearty, dark beers, some made by friends who will join the festivities.
This year our celebration is once again limited due to the new variant of CoVid-19. It will be just small group of family and friends who have been full vaccinated, three shots.
What ever your beliefs, or none, may the traditions and celebrations bring you peace and joy. Blessed Be. The Wheel Turns.