It is the Winter Solstice. The time of one ending and one beginning.
The Sun, source of all our power and life, is at it’s largest ebb in the Northern Hemisphere. Those souls lucky enough to be in the Southern Hemisphere are having their Summer Solstice and in the best of warmth; leaving us up north a bit jealous ;-)
But this posting will be “Northern Centric”. The traditional view of Europeans.
This is the time of change from decreasing light / increasing darkness to increasing light as the darkness flees. Yes, we still have about 2 months to 3 months of coldest winter to endure (as temperatures lag the heat flux change by a few months). Yet this is the moment when we can see the change coming.
It is “always darkest before the dawn”, and that holds doubly so (or perhaps even more than that) for the depths of the Winter Solstice.
Reflect for just a moment on what the Solstice means. The apparent movement of the Sun away from the peak of the dome of the sky has halted. The Sun stops the apparent movement to the other end of the world, and today starts to return to us. To power new beginnings and new warmth.
Yet for the next 3 months, we must live on stored energy. Stored hope. Stored life.
This has been a fundamental truth for millions of years for life outside the Tropics. Many species have their reproductive cycles tied to the solar cycle and the seasons. Pregnancies that start in spring, so maximum food quantity and quality is available while the young are developing; birth in winter, and first months spent ‘denning’ waiting for warmth of spring and the cycle to repeat. (Birds, being faster to develop, nest in spring and have fully grown in time to fly away in fall, planning in winter their return flight ‘soon’ in spring…)
For my own family, we are all ‘waiting expectantly’ as a new grandson is ‘on his way’. Due Date was yesterday. So “any day now”. The cycle of life of millions of years continues to beat to the solar drum and the Solstice Clock. Spouse and her twin birth date 2 weeks out. Mine about 3. Son about 4 weeks past. Ancient clocks and patterns repeated in the modern age. The next generation following in pattern.
So what is this time?
It is a time to celebrate and have a party. This has been true since before the Druids. They have a winter solstice celebration too, but even before Christians parked “Christmas” on top of the Druid party, the more ancient Pagans had a Winter Solstice celebration. (Note that the plants and animal stories in the birth of Christ place his actual month of birth about April.) While archaeologists just love to pronounce with somber tones that it was all Priests and Religion, I think that is a farce. Strong formal religion is a recent invention.
Most folks just lived ‘one with the world’ and in sync with nature and the seasons. That takes no High Priest and no Doctrine. The best evidence from Stonehenge shows a lot of cooked pig bones, and from 5000 years ago we find in Czech Republic / Bavaria areas evidence of Barley being roasted and beer made. To me, that says “Party!”.
It’s cold. It’s dark. You can’t plant and farm. Your food is all stored from last harvest and you still have 3 months (at least…) to get through before you can grow more. You have a choice: FEED all your animals, or eat them. May as well have a big blow out get-together with family and friends, have a feast of feasts on the final harvest of animals, and drink up some brew from those grains that can’t be stored through the winter.
The Yule Log tradition was that the biggest and best guys went into the forest and cut down a large log (preferably finding a dead / dry one) and drug it back to The Party. One end was lit on fire and it slowly burned to the other. Caloric demand is highest right now, to stay warm through this coldest darkest turn, so NOW is when you eat the most. The best logs could burn for 12 days… now the “12 Days Of Christmas”, really an old Pagan and later Druid ritual party.
We no longer need to gather in large groups, pool our resources and fire to stay warm in the darkest night of the year. Yet we still enjoy the party of it. So that’s what we continue to do.
Light The Fires of the 12 days of “Christmas” and Yule.
Pour the high caloric beverages (mead, grog, beer, eggnog…) and enjoy their warmth.
Cook large quantities of rich foods with warm fires, burn some on the altar of charcoal / wood coals to the Gods of nature and of man…
Enjoy a long “huddle” with friends and warmth in the dead of night.
Remember that while this is the longest night of the year, it is also the start of ever longer days and good times / warmth in the future. The worst is over, the best is yet to come.
If that isn’t a good reason for a party, I don’t know what else could be, so Get To It!
There is little in the world better than fire, hearth, food, family, friends, beverages and singing. No “priests” need apply (even this one…) to lead the festivities. Just start your own Winter Festival and enjoy this life.
Do please note that the fire, the food, the beverages, the friends and family, the warmth and the furs and coats are all based in Carbon. That one thing that is central to all known life and central to storing the energy of summer for use in the long winter still presently in progress. So take just a moment to hoist a glass of Sacramental Beverage and salute the Altar Fire, the Southern Sun, and the frozen north to which it will return.
Until that time, it is your stores of Carbon fuels and Carbon foods that will keep you warm, safe, and your heart glad through the next season of ever more light in a cold world. Praise be to Carbon, and praise be to our life based in it.
With that, I’ve got a fire to light, some meat to put on the Altar Of Fire, and a beverage of Carbon Based Fuel to pour. A nice red this time, I think…
Let the Winter Yule begin. I make 12 days as being nicely into the new year ;-)