Saturday, 17 December 2016

Celebrating the Winter Solstice

The shortest day of the year, normally December 21st, is known as the Winter Solstice and is still a magical time for many people in the northern hemisphere. 

This is the day when the sun appears to stand still, as the earth’s North Pole tilts the furthest away from the sun, before the days will begin to lengthen again until reaching the longest day on the Summer Solstice. The word solstice is thought to stem from two Latin words: sol, meaning sun and sistere, to stand.

The days leading up to the Winter Solstice were known as Saturnalia in Roman times, marking the moment when the sun was reborn after the shortest day and longest night. To celebrate the occasion and to welcome the coming of light, most people left aside their work to enjoy as much merriment and feasting as possible.

Another important part of the festival was the winter greenery brought inside to decorate homes around this time, such as ivy, holly, laurel and mistletoe, all illuminated by the light from candles. The evergreen ivy and the holly with its bright red berries have had many myths and legends attached to them over the centuries, often to do with new life and rebirth.

Here in Britain, there is a wealth of carols and poems celebrating the place holly and ivy have in our December traditions, both pagan and Christian, from Advent, through the twelve days of Christmas to Epiphany, such as this poem by Robert Herrick from the 16th century.

The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is we find a room
To welcome him. The nobler part
Of all the house here is the heart.

Which we will give him, and bequeath
This holly and this ivy wreath,
To do him honour who’s our King,
And Lord of all this revelling.

Many people still celebrate this special time at the Winter Solstice and it is especially sacred to the Druids and some pagan beliefs. Stonehenge in England is one of the most significant ancient spiritual sites where hundreds of people will gather to watch the sun set on the shortest day this December and will welcome the new sunrise after the longest night of the year. 

The Winter Solstice partly forms the background for Midwinter Masquerade which is set in Edinburgh and the Scottish countryside during the Regency period of 1816. This was such a dark year in many ways that it was known as ‘the year without a summer’.

For the rest of December, Midwinter Masquerade is on sale at only 99p (99c) from Amazon UK and Amazon US!



Joanna said...

This is so interesting, Rosemary, and such a magical time. I love the thought of the sun standing still. I'm always a bit sad that the days start to lengthen after the 21st because I love the winter months so much more than the summer and my husband always has to reassure me that I'll be drawing the curtains in the late afternoon for quite some time to come! There is definitely something special about bringing greenery into the house at this time of year, a sense of hope and promise for the coming year. xxx

Teresa Ashby said...

Lovely post, Rosemary. I am already looking forward to the days getting longer :-)

Anita Chapman said...

I can't wait for those days to start lengthening again, Rosemary! Hope you have a lovely Christmas and a very Happy 2017 :)

Patsy said...

I celebrate the Winter Solstice - mainly because it means the amount of daylight starts to increase again.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for your lovely comment, Joanna. I feel exactly the same as you and don't want the nights to start getting lighter too soon! Enjoy them while you can.

I knew you would be happy to think of the lengthening days, Teresa! Isn't it funny how different seasons appeal to different people.

Thank you, Anita - all the best to you too! I didn't know you're another who prefers the lighter months.

You too, Patsy? I guess it makes your travelling about easier when the days get longer!

Well, we're definitely in the minority so far, Joanna!

Bill Kirton said...

Lovely, Rosemary and, on top of all that, it's my wife's birthday. Let the Bacchanalian revels commence.

Julia Thorley said...

Excellent Solstice knowledge!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks, Bill! Please wish your wife many happy returns from me.

Why, thank you, Julia!