Congratulations! You’ve made it to the winter solstice! You know what that means, right??? The downward, darkward slide we’ve been experiencing is about to begin ratcheting uphill again, minute by minute, towards the light.
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Granted, the cold, dreary, loooong march of winter is just getting underway, but the darkness is gathering its skirts and trotting on out. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t have anything against darkness, in general. In fact, I love the night. …Except, to me, the winter’s bleak nighttime hours simply can’t compare to those of spring, filled with the restless chirps of peepers… or the drowsy rise and fall of cicada song on warm summer nights. Personally? I see it as a quality over quantity thing.
I’m pretty sure the ancient Celts agreed, too. At the winter solstice, they marked the rebirth of the sun by celebrating Yule (originally called Alban Arthuan or “Light of Arthur”— as in the king). It was a big deal, Yule; it predates Christianity and is one of the oldest winter celebrations of them all.
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For the Celts, Yule was all about light and life.
Ceremonial fires were lit to celebrate the sun’s turning point. A Yule log was burnt to bring good luck and drive back the darkness of midwinter. It was kindled from the remains of the previous year’s log and allowed to glow and smolder for twelve whole days, owing to the Celtic belief that the sun stood still for a dozen days at solstice-time.
Evergreens, plants which lived while others died back, were used to decorate the interiors and exteriors of homes. Holly and ivy were believed to keep dark energy at bay, while giving nature spirits a safe haven to retreat to inside the home. Mistletoe was carefully harvested from oak trees by Druid priests and used to ward off dark spirits and promote fertility. Some believe the ancient Celts decorated trees with stars and suns and moons to honor their gods, and offered gifts to show gratitude for their blessings.
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Just as these and other ancient practices have persisted into modern tradition, so should the power of the solstice. Yes, we have many more days of cold ahead and, no, I’m still no fan of winter—save for the beauty of the snow, the fun of sledding, and the roaring-fire-wrapped-up-in-coziness factor. Regardless, the winter solstice, for me, is wholly and thoroughly and utterly deserving of celebration.
Simple: it reminds me of the value of hope.
Every year, without fail, the winter solstice teaches this single, all-important lesson: even at the end of the longest night, light returns.
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Happy Solstice to you and yours! I sincerely hope you make the best of the light.