THE WINTER SOLSTICE
DAWN AT STONEHENGE
It is no coincidence that the massive monoliths of the neolithic Stonehenge are arranged to form a perfect line of sight for the Winter Solstice sunset – the shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Clearly, the ancient Druids understood and venerated the day. So did the Romans whose Saturnalia festival ran from December 17 – 23 and featured gift giving. Eventually, Saturnalia was observed on December 25 and merged with the festival of “dies natalis solis invicti,” ‘birthday of the unconquered sun.” By 354 AD, December 25th was appearing on Roman calendars as the birthday of Christ.
THE BIRTHDAY OF THE UNDYING SUN
Scandanavia had the Festival of Juul, with featured the burning of the Yule log during the winter solstice, a tradition which spread over Europe.
THE YULE LOG
The Winter Solstice celebrations are a recognition of the slow but inevitable turning of the seasonal clock. It is more than hope, it is Astronomical proof that the distant spring will once again emerge in it’s green glory from the bleak, white winter. The Winter Solstice is the turning point, the pivot that reaffirms the continuation of Cyclical Time, because the days do get longer again as they always did and always will.
But there is also the haunting melancholy of mortality, echoed in the deep unconscious mind at the Winter Solstice, reverberating in the ancient drinking songs. So, God rest ye merry gentleman, let nothing you dismay and don’t look too closely at the passing of time. Yes, spring will come back, Jesus is scheduled for resurrection at Easter, December will come back, Christmas will come back, but 2015 will never come back, your grandmother will never come back and your death awaits after a few more trips around the sun, so bring on the figgy pudding and bring it right now.
The Winter Solstice / Christmas is at once the “most wonderful time of the year” and the most depressing time of the year. But to a large degree, we can choose how we will react and perhaps the safest path is the middle one. Enjoy the Winter Solstice, celebrate Christmas, but don’t make it into an impossibly beautiful fantasy where we “all will be together” because we know that can never come true. The truth is that the Spring WILL return. The reality is that you won’t always be around to see it return.
WALKING IN A WINTER WONDERLAND
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY SOLSTICE!