Winter Solstice & Yule

Joylina Goodings

The solstice itself has been a special day of the year's annual cycle since neolithic times.  It is the shortest day of the year with just 7 hours and 49 minutes daylight. The solstice itself is the moment the sun is shining farthest to the south, directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, so the time is varies every year, between December 20th and 23rd and this year occurs on December 21st at 22.23pm. 

It has been celebrated as a major Pagan festival, with rituals of rebirth, for thousands of years. Revellers gather at Stonehenge to watch the sunrise on the shortest day, as well as the summer solstice around June 21. 

This moment also marks the beginning of the Wiccan celebration of Yule. Yule was the traditional North European pagan name for the winter solstice festival which lasted 12 days and which celebrates the return of the sun. This is probably the forerunner of the 12 days of Christmas. It was celebrated with the exchange of gifts, bonfires in the fields, and crops and trees were honnoured, known as "wassailed", with toasts of spiced cider and beer. Many of the traditions now associated with Christmas had their roots in Pagan Winter Solstice celebrations; including mistletoe and Christmas trees.

It was also when the traditional Yule Log was cut and brought into the hearth. Origially a Yule Log as a whole tree which was chosen with special care andbrought into the house where it was kept burning for the whole 12 days. If there was any left it was kept to relight the next tree the following year. In different parts of the country different trees were traditionally used, such as Oak in England, Birch in Scotland and Cherry in France and this is obviously where the tradition of the Christmas Tree began. Although In England Christmas Trees first became popular in Victorian times as it was a German tradition that Prince Albert brought with him. Before that the British had a Yule Log, although by then it was not a whole tree.

The Druids  - an ancient Celtic order of priests, teachers, diviners and magicians who gleaned knowledge and enlightenment from sacred landscapes and ancient trees such as ‘Tutorial Oaks’ - used evergreen trees, holly and mistletoe to represent everlasting life. Druids would consider the cutting of trees as an offence against nature, but would decorate them with colourful rags tied on the branches. There are usually many events taking place around the world to celebrate the Solstice.

Of course in the Southern Hemesphire it is the Summer Solstice.