The Winter Solstice is a magical season . .
. one that marks the journey from this year to the next, journeys of
the spirit from one world to the next, and the magic of birth,
death, and rebirth. The longest night of the year (December 21 in
the Northern hemisphere), is reborn as the start of the solar year
and accompanied by festivals of light to mark the rebirth of the
Sun. In ancient Europe, this night of darkness grew from the myths
of the Norse
goddess Frigga who sat at her
spinning wheel weaving the fates, and the celebration was called Yule, from the Norse word
Jul, meaning wheel. The Christmas wreath, a symbol adapted from
Frigga's "Wheel of
Fate", reminds us of the cycle of the seasons and the continuity of life.
That the timing of the Christian celebration of the birth of
Christ occurs in the Yule season is no coincidence. Christmas was once a movable feast,
celebrated many different times during the year. The decision to establish December 25 as
the "official" date of Christ's birth was made by Pope Julius I in the fourth
century AD, hoping to replace the pagan celebration with the Christian one, since this
date coincided with the pagan celebrations of Winter Solstice with the Return of the Sun
Gods occurring throughout the world.
Numerous Christmas traditions derive from the earlier pagan
celebrations. Yule, celebrating the birth or rebirth of a god of light, made use of fire,
both in candles and the burning of a Yule log.
The Christmas tree has its origins in the
practice of bringing a live tree into the home so the wood spirits would have a place to
keep warm during the cold winter months. Bells were hung in the limbs so you could
tell when an appreciative spirit was present. Food and treats were hung on the branches
for the spirits to eat and a five-pointed star, the pentagram, symbol of the five
elements, was placed atop the tree.
In Northern Europe, the year's longest night
is called "Mother Night" for it was in darkness the goddess Frigga labored to
bring the Light to birth once more. The Young Sun, Baldur, who controlled the sun and rain
and brings fruitfulness to the fields, was born. Frigga's blessing is invoked for all
birthing women, and a white candle that last burned on the solstice is a charm to provide
a safe delivery.
The mistletoe's association with the
holidays come from the myths of the goddess Frigga. The plant's white berries were formed from
Frigga's tears of mourning when her beloved son Baldur was killed by a dart made from
Some versions of the story of Baldur's death end happily. Baldur is
restored to life, and the goddess is so grateful that she reverses the reputation
of the baleful plant, making it a symbol of peace and love and promising a kiss to all who
pass under it.
Read more about the goddess Frigga and other legends about mistletoe.
Throughout the world gods and goddesses of light were being born
during the Winter Solstice. The Egyptian
delivered Horus whose symbol was the
winged Sun. Mithras, the Unconquered Sun of Persia, was born during the solstice, as was
Amaterasu, the Japanese Goddess of the Sun. Rhea gave birth to Saturn (son
of the Father of Time),
Hephaestus, and Quetzalcoatl and Lucina ("Little Light") also
celebrate birthdays at this time. Lucia, saint or Goddess of Light, is honored from Italy
to Sweden, crowned with candles to carry us through the darkness.
The birth of Sarasvati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge and the Queen of
Heaven, is also celebrated during Yule-tide.
The Solstice is also a time of plenty. The Hopi Kachinas return to
the Earth during the solstice, and the Deer Mothers dance for the fertility of the
earth. The hearth fires of
(known as the Roman goddess Vesta) are
quenched and then rekindled. The "first fruits" festival, Kwanzaa, is held to
honor the seven major deities of Yoruba.
And Winter Solstice is a time for visions.
Rhiannon, a Welsh
incarnation of Epona, the Celtic Mare Goddess, rides through the dreams of her people by
night, transporting them to the place between the worlds where they can create their own
visions, giving them a gift of what they need most, helping them to make real their
dreams. In Scotland, the last night of the year is Wish Night, a holiday when wishes made
for the coming year are at their most powerful.