winter solstice

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

December, 2016

Winter Solstice 2016

Bright Blessings!
The Solstice Season is upon us, and all I can think about is planning my ritual and gathering. Then, I can’t wait until the hubbub dies down from shopping, and parties that last until January.
I have done my annual bowing out of all Christmas themed celebrations, and reminded people I do not send cards, or do gift exchanges.
I have had the gripe fests with others who want to avoid the mainstream holiday, but can’t get away from it. A friend hit the nail on the head yesterday, and said, “I am just NOT in the Xmas Spirit this year.” I told him that I am NEVER in the Xmas spirit. A lot of us aren’t.
Then, I started wondering, where does the Xmas Spirit come from? How did it go from the celebration of Pagan things, to the observance of the birth of the Xtian god, and then to become so commercialized?
My theory is all about greed, and herd mentality, and keeping up with the Jonses with who can buy the best presents, and whatnot. Truthfully, that is not well-researched, and it shows my bitter personal bias.
So instead of fussing, like I prefer to do, I’ll be an adult and share some history of the Ancient Roman celebration we draw many of our modern traditions from, and investigate WHY, in winter specifically, gift giving and charity are done so prolifically.
Ancient Roman Saturnalia
IO Saturn!
Major partying was done from December 17 through the 23 in ancient Rome in honor of the god Saturn.
Saturn is a god of agriculture, and it is believed when he reined, an Eden-like land of bounty and innocence was where people lived. He was also believed to be a god of liberation, and of the Capital. As he was the Roman aspect of the Greek god, Cronus, he was seen as a god of time as well, and they deemed it fit to have Saturnalia right at Solstice time, just before New Years. Both of which are markers of time.
Many things from our modern day “Xmas Spirit” come from Saturnalia.
Gift Giving and Liberation
As Saturn was a god of agriculture as well as liberation, he was unbound for the celebrations. For some reason, wool bound his feet year round, except during Saturnalia, when it was removed. In further observance of liberation, servants were allowed a short period of being allowed to say whatever they wanted to their employers, without risk of punishment. Blending the liberation and gift giving practice, masters served and fed splendid feasts to their servants. In some banquets, servants dined before masters, in others, they all ate together.
Gift giving day was December 19, and typically, gifts were kept fairly inexpensive. Children got toys, of course, and some favored gag gifts. Some employers would give extra money to their employees to use for them to buy their families gifts. We see this still done to this day in the form of holiday bonuses and the nice dinners some businesses host for staff.
Light of the World
After the Fourth Century in Ancient Rome, a festival for a sun god called Sol Invictus took place on December 25. Lights were kindled, and the birth of this god was celebrated. To me, this is another Solstice Celebration, and it was written that Xtians also took part in the festivities. The Church saw this and decided to observe the birth of Christ on December 25 as a result. Jesus became “The Light of the World” for Xtians, and the Church moved towards more separation from Pagan celebrations.
The Feast
Feasting seems to be a major part of every major holiday. This in particular was including not just the feats for the servants, like the holiday meals our employers give to us, but as veneration of a god of plenty.
Sacrifice
As with most all Pagan celebrations, there was sacrifice. Suckling pigs were offered- and are still eaten at Xmas to this day. But what many don’t know, is it is written there were some periods Saturn demanded human sacrifice. Gladiators were given to Saturn, and it was later said he specifically preferred just human heads. It is supposedly the demigod Hercules who said masks would be offered rather than real human heads. Today, people continue the tradition of sacrifice by donating to charity, or doing charitable works.
What’s all this got to do with today?
Aspects of the pre-Xtian Solstice time festivities were taken by the Church and used for Xmastime. The things that had originally been sacred to a Pagan god like gift giving, having time off work, and sacrifice, became secular, and done just for fun.
As the Ancient Romans were a people of commerce, I can’t say our modern society is the first to have commercialized the holidays. All I know is it all feels cheap to me today.
If each thing had a meaning besides lining some businesses pockets with money, maybe some of us would feel better about it.
Solstice time had been about giving thanks to gods like Saturn, and welcoming the sun, in anticipation of the growing season.
Jesus became the blanket “lord of everything”, and the “one true god” to Xtians. Observance of the seasons gradually fell out of favor in our world of grocery stores and hydroponic indoor gardens which give us fresh produce year round. They still observe the pre-Xtian festivities, and they don’t even know they are doing so.
So, for those of us who do not worship Sol Invictus, or Saturn, whose veneration a lot of Xtian modern Christmas things come from, getting “in the Christmas Spirit” might not happen. As far as I am concerned, that is completely okay.
Some of us stay away from shopping malls to avoid the pandemonium, avoid restaurants in busy areas, do not do the gift exchanges or parties, and do not send cards. We likewise travel after, or before the holidays rather than during them. Some do their charity work year round rather than just at the holidays, as well.
Some are sick to death of the demands of friends and family , and downright refuse to be guilted into attending something, or doing some holiday themed thing we do not feel in our hearts is right for us.
Instead of a ritual or spellwork, I am going to provide some affirmations for those who are not in the Xmas spirit, and who likewise do not want to be.
Ten Reasons Why it’s okay to not have “The Xmas Spirit”
It is a personal choice to have certain feelings or not. Nobody can force “cheer” or “jolliness” on you if you genuinely are not feeling it. It is what is, and other people who cannot deal with your choice will just have to suffer.
It is supposed to be for sacred purposes. Something is either sacred to you, or it’s not.
You don’t owe it to friends or family to do things with them just because they think you should. This is a huge reason some people eventually burn out from Xmas. Many refuse to be pressured by other people who feel it will be more fun for them if we are having fun along with them. It’s not fun for some of us, and that is okay.
Maybe the holiday brings bad memories, and you feel better off emotionally if you don’t put yourself in certain settings which force you to relive them. In this situation, you have to do what is best for you, and people who really care about you will understand.
Maybe your finances do not allow for gifts and cards for everybody. Maybe you also have limited space in your home, and just don’t have room for gifts from people. The shopping, and party crowds might make you crazy, and the traffic might make you feel worse. Staying out of it all might be necessary for you.
Maybe you don’t want to put the time and expense into decorating. You may have kids or pets that tear up things and you don’t have to deal with that if you don’t want to.
Maybe you just don’t have the time to do everything people invite you to do, and you don’t feel right choosing to turn down select invitations, so you respectfully decline them all indiscriminately.
Your job may prevent you from doing things, and it might not bother you. This is also something you cannot control.
You might have an extenuating circumstance and have to be absent this year, but plan to join in next year. That is okay too.
The last and most important reason why it is okay to not have “The Xmas Spirit” is if you just don’t want to, you just don’t have to.

Many of us dread the weeks following the day after Halloween, clear up to mid January when all has dies down from “holiday mania”, as I like to call it. Every year, it gets more stressful and difficult for me, and the only thing that saves me, and many like me during this time, is the fact that we exclude ourselves. I also understand many of my loved ones LIVE for Christmas, and they look forward to it year round.
May the holidays be joyous and blessed for those who celebrate them, and may they be over with quickly for those who don’t!
Blessed Be!

Red Pixie’s Elements of a Magical Life

December, 2012

Solstice Traditions

Winter solstice observances were held by virtually every culture in the world. Solstice rites were practiced among such diverse groups as Native South Americans, Celts, Persians, Orientals, and Africans. Solstice was known as Sacaea to the Mesopotamians, as the Festival of Kronos to the ancient Greeks, and as Saturnalia to the Romans. According to Norse traditions, the Valkyrie looked for souls to bring to Valhalla during Yule. Norwegians abstained from hunting or fishing for the twelve days during Yule as a way of letting the weary world rest and to hasten the revived sun’s appearance. In old Russia it was traditional to toss grain upon the doorways where carollers visited as a way of keeping the house from want throughout the rest of the winter. Ashes from the Yule log were mixed with cows’ feed in France and Germany to promote the animals’ health and help them calve. In Baltic regions today, corn is scattered near the door of the house for sustenance and ashes of the Yule log are given to fruit trees to increase their yield. Romanians bless the trees of the orchard on Yule with sweetened dough to bring good harvests. Serbs toss wheat on the burning Yule log to increase livestock bounty.

The most significant Yule tradition to persist over the centuries is the Christmas tree. Although the origin of the Christmas tree is generally ascribed to Martin Luther, its beginnings actually go back to pre-Christian times. Christmas trees are thought to have evolved from the rite of symbolically selecting and harvesting a “sacred tree,” a practice found in many ancient cultures. Evergreens and firs were sacred to early peoples, including the ancient Greeks, Celts, and Germans. The first Yule trees were born when pagans went into the forests during the winter solstice to give offerings to evergreens. Pines and firs remained green while other vegetation lost their leaves and appeared lifeless during the bitter winter cold. Their mysterious survival and vigor seemed to signify a life force within which carried with it the hope of renewed life.

The pinea silva or sacred pine groves that were attached to pagan Roman temples also pre-figured the Christmas tree. On the night before a holy day, Roman priests called “tree-bearers” cut one of the sacred pines, decorated it, and carried it into the temple. In fact, the German word for Christmas tree is not Kristenbaum, or Christmas tree, but Tannenbaum, or sacred tree.

Church leaders from the early centuries of the Church all the way through Puritan society in 17th century Massachusetts condemned the custom of bringing decorated evergreens into the home at Yule time. The custom was so beloved and persistent, however, that repeated attempts to eradicate ‘heathen’ practices ultimately failed-and now these pagan traditions, which largely celebrate nature, are among the most treasured elements of the season.

Decorating the tree with objects resembling fruits, nuts, berries, and even flowers is thought to be a symbolic act designed to bring about the return of summer’s bounty. In this way early cultures hoped to hurry the return of spring, and ensure survival through the rest of the harsh winter months.

Christmas wreaths are also ancient, and were traditionally made of evergreens, holly, and ivy. The wreath’s circle symbolizes the wheel of the year and the completion of another cycle. Holly represents the female element; ivy represents the male. Like evergreens, holly was believed to contain a mysterious life force because it bore berries in the middle of winter. Both holly and ivy were thought to have magical properties, and were used as protection against negative elements.

Kissing under the mistletoe is an old Druid tradition. Mistletoe was considered highly sacred by this culture because, as a parasitic kind of vegetation, it never touched the earth (growing instead on oaks and other trees), and also because it bore berries in winter when everything else appeared dead. Druids gathered the leaves and berries from special oaks with sickles made of gold. They called mistletoe “all-heal” because they felt it had the power of protection against illness and bad events, and also because they believed mistletoe spread goodwill. Legend has it that enemies meeting under the mistletoe cast their weapons aside, greeted each other amicably, and honored a temporary truce. White linen clothes were spread beneath the mistletoe as it was being gathered so none of it would touch the ground, lest its power be accidentally released back to the earth. Mistletoe berries were considered to be a powerful fertility substance. A kiss under the mistletoe meant love and the promise of marriage.

Burning the Yule log is perhaps the oldest of all Yule traditions, possibly dating back eons. Since the winter solstice was a solar holiday, fire in different forms was closely associated with it. Fires and candles were lit during Yule to give the waning sun renewed power and vigor-and also surely to provide sources of cheery heat and light during the darkest part of the northern winter. Even the burning brandy on plum pudding symbolized the sun’s rebirth. Traditionally the Yule log was made of oak; in northern European countries, the log was massive enough to burn for the entire twelve days of Yule. It was selected early in the year and set aside, then at winter solstice decorated with sprays of fir, evergreen, holly, ivy, or yew. A piece of the previous year’s Yule log was used to light the new Yule log. Once the ashes were cold they were gathered into powerful amulets, or scattered throughout the garden and fields to ensure fertility and bounty in the coming year.

Spirituality of Solstice

The spiritual ramifications of yule are profound for both neo-pagans and Christians. For Christians, the birth of Christ means a turning point between eternal death and eternal life. Devout Christians celebrate Christmas as the beginning of a new spiritual age of eternal life.

For neo-pagans, Yule is also a time of spiritual beginnings. Jul, or Yule, is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “wheel.” The winter solstice is the turning point in the natural cycle of the year; this darkest night in all the year is followed by a day that will dawn just a little bit earlier.

Because Yule signifies the completion of the wheel of the year, the period around the winter solstice is considered to be a good time for spiritual work. Some neo-pagans believe the dark nights of winter are when the veil between the spirit world and the living world is the thinnest. It is therefore an appropriate time for self-examination and meditation on hidden energies-both the energies lying dormant within the earth, and also those within ourselves. Yule traditions celebrate nature’s renewal, and help affirm our connection to the energy and power of the earth and the cosmos.

Nature’s Enduring Cycle

The winter solstice demonstrates the enduring cycle of the heavens by an event that has been directly observable, year in and year out, century after century, for millions of years. The new year begins with the turning point of the winter solstice, as it has down through eons-an unending cycle of dark and light, waning and waxing, ultimately representing nature’s birth, death, and rebirth. The winter solstice is a time to affirm our spiritual ties to nature through celebrations and traditions that are thousands of years old.

 

Whether celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Yule, we can all delight in the season as a time to renew family ties, take joy in our natural environment, reflect on the events of the old year, and look forward in anticipation to the new. As the winter solstice demonstrates to us, every ending is a new beginning.

How do you celebrate Winter Solstice, leave me a message and let me know how you celebrate and what traditions you have.

InterWeavings

December, 2011

I’m so excited! The start of the Christmas season has begun!

Not because I celebrate as a Christian or even celebrate it as a secular holiday. It is because it signals my favorite time on the wheel of the year. Winter.

Just saying “winter” brings to my mind clear, crisp, cold nights standing outside looking at the stars, the darkness falling by late afternoon. The smell of wood burning in fireplaces and snuggling inside surrounded by the quiet of the night. Truly, Silent Night bliss.

Our home prepares for the decorations of the season in November with Thanksgiving. Cleaning and making room for family and guests is step one. Preparing menus for the next several weeks is step two   followed by the trimming of the house with decorations for Winter Solstice.

Our main tree is in the family room.  We have collected and made ornaments that represent the elements as well as suns, moons and stars.  We also look for things that each of the family loves. There are fairies, mountain bikes, birds, ballet dancers, roses, ivy, and frogs and things from our childhood trees, which are now considered “antique”! A star is shining on top and quilt batting is laid underneath as a blanket of snow. A blanket our cats look forward to each year.

I have a tree dedicated to Bridget in my kitchen. Garlands of macaroni as well as miniature pots and pans adorn it. Star anise is hung, as are little cookbooks. A cornhusk doll holding bread in on top and a darling cow sits patiently at the base.

This year I am creating a Pink Bubble tree for our bedroom. A Pink Bubble is a visualization technique where you see the person or situation as perfect and then surrounded by a pink bubble. Release the bubble to float and find the highest good of all concerned.  My tree is a pink feather tree with clear glass balls and garlands of glass balls. It looks like it is covered in bubbles! The larger glass balls can be opened for a slip of paper with a name or situation written on it to be placed inside. I wake each morning and smile as I see this tree. Blessings bubble up and are sent to family and friends

Christmas, Solstice, Winter; all three words remind me of the importance of family, friends and home. It is our need to find the Light in the darkness to bring hope, clarity and warmth.  How beautiful it is to be in harmony with the world at this time. A perfect time to “Pink Bubble” this beautiful planet!