21 Dec 2011

Hestia and....the Winter Solstice

The Druids Bringing in The Mistletoe
This is the hardest jigsaw I've ever done.
Tomorrow morning, when birds are still sleeping with their heads under their wings and most teenagers are not even THINKING about going home, it will be the point that marks the Winter Solstice.

There are two Solstices in a year - one at midsummer and one at midwinter - both marking the turning points of the year.  For tomorrow's Solstice, we mark the (albeit imperceptible) lengthening of the day until we reach the Summer Solstice in July where things sloooooowly start to tip the other way.....and the nights start to draw in.

There are another two festivals of note - the Spring Equinox and the Autumn Equinox.  You might think that marking the two points in the year where the hours of light exactly balance the hours of darkness is an antediluvian practice that went out with the Ark, but actually, the Spring Equinox plays quite an important role:  The date for Easter is decided by selecting the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equniox.  I *know* what an utterly and delightfully pagan way to work out such a significant date in the Christian calendar!

In total there are 8 significant Festivals in the pagan year....but now's not their time - it's the day for the the Solstice to shine!

December 21 or 22 marks the time where the Sun is born again (or do I mean the Son is born again?!) and there was much in the way of celebratory eating and drinking as our ancestors battened down the hatches for the long, dark and dreary weeks of winter before Top of the Pops Christmas Special and Morcambe and Wise brightened things up.

Back in the days before Children Came Along, myself and a small band of cohorts would all be picked at around 4am by a girlfriend in her rattly old motor. We would each have brought something useful - incense, candles, heated mulled wine in a flask (guess who brought that?!) and the vital box of matches.

We would creep our way through the sleeping streets down to the south of the island, picking our way down the single track road until we reached the car park for St Blane's Chapel.  I use the term 'car park' very loosely; 'bit of ground where we leave the car' might be more accurate.

There, in the pitch black, we would fumble around in the boot (or 'trunk' as my American reader might call it) for our supplies and then head off up the hill and through the fields to the ruined chapel.

More often or not we would meet the farmer out checking on his animals.  God knows what he must have made of our little group, muffled to the tops of our heads, torch beams dancing over the rough ground and into the startled eyes of sheep, supermarket carrier bags rattling by our sides.

It wasn't a serious thing, by any manner of means; there was a lot of giggling and inadvertent swearing as we stumbled our way to the chapel in the dark.

Once there, we would get out all our bits and bobs and get ready.  At the point of Solstice we would light our candles and incense amongst the trees and old stones and someone would say a little impromptu something or other.

And you would feel, in that heartbeat, a breath of kinship with all those for whom this moment had held ancient significance.

We would then each make some declaration about what we each chose to light our lives with in the coming year.....and then it was time to break out the mulled wine and try to stamp some feeling back into our frozen feet.

By the time we were all dropped off back at home,  the kids were getting mobilised for school, cars defrosted and scraped down.  Neighbours waved a hello, wondering where on earth I had been - to be coming HOME at 8am.  Dirty trollop that I am :-)

Then children came along, Tartarus was working abroad and it became impossible for me to stand shivering in the dark for hours to bring in the Solstice as we had done.

Tomorrow at 5am, I'll maybe roll over in my warm bed and offer up a silent prayer of gratitude for the lengthening of the days, but then it will be back to the land of Nod and hopefully a memorable dream about Hugh Jackman.

What wonderful things do you choose to light-up YOUR coming year?

Go on - declare your intentions!

And don't forget, tomorrow you can start to say: 'The nights are starting to draw out!'


  1. Dear Alison, While I have never celebrated the Solstice, the lengthening of the day always seems to come at that point of Winter when you feel absolutely fed up with cold and darkness. Sadly, I assume that means for us in the South that our days will now imperceptibly be shortening. I love the idea of expressing an intention for the next year at this point - mine is to bring more fun and laughter into my family's life (too much shouting from me this year!). Have a lovely Christmas, Alison. love Lindaxxx

  2. wow! i just wrote a lengthy comment and watched it disappear. let's try again, shall we?

    i look forward to this day every year! it is the darkness, more than anything else, that gets me down in the winter. and we're so far north here, that it feels like we have 3h of daylight right now.

    happy solstice, ali! may your days grown longer in love, laughter and joy!

  3. Tomorrow I, like you, will roll over, pull the duvet tighter and snuggle back down to sleep.

    I've never "gone out" for the Solstice, life's always been too complicated and I love my bed too much. However, now we live in the Far North, I can watch the sun rise above the horizon as I do the school run and tell myself that Im observing the Solstice properly ;) (besides seeing the Pictish tombs on the distant hill as the sun comes us links us to the past surely?)

    I'll give a nod of acknowledgment, have a glass of wine, light a candle....and look forward to the lengthening days. Pretty boring really :)

    Happy Solstice Ali xxx

  4. We'll be eating suckling pig round a bonfire and drinking the odd glass or two of wine. I'll drink to your continued health and happiness then I'll phone Hugh to give him your phone number.
    Love and stuff

  5. I love the Winter Solstice and the coming of the lighter days. I guess getting married will be one way of letting the light in?

  6. Like Linda in Chile, I'm in the middle of summer, so celebrating the winter solstice isn't just weird it's wrong.

    When I was a lad, we imagained that all you "strange" ladies celebrated the solstice by running around with no clothes on.

    It made winter so much beter somehow.

  7. I shall endevour to put a posative spin on my day and lighten up....having woken up to an unseasonally warm London morning, sun shining and all, am feeling strangely bouyant....perhaps it was the solstice!!x

  8. It's a wonderful feeling to know that daylight'll be with us that bit longer, a real cause for celebration.
    We did have a bit of a celebratory evening, visiting a friend in hospital whose finally starting to make a recovery after a horrific accident, festive beers and live music in the local and a curry. x

  9. I celebrated the solstice at a party actually, some friends are heading off on a trip to Africa and thought the 21st was an opportune night for a party. So I had mulled wine, then more wine, then a bit more, and woke up hungover and stinking of booze and woodsmoke from the fire... Worth it though!
    Intentions for next year? I've achieved my last year's vow (not to buy anything new for myself, charity shops/Ebay/secondhand only) so I'm feeling quite smug. Hmmm, am pondering what the challenge for 2012 should be. Will let you know! xxxx

  10. Late at night on 21st after a few (well, several) drinks, a few friends and I used to walk out to a spot on the estuary down a long path through some woods and light a bonfire and stood around a bit. It wasn't the most spectacular way of celebrating Sol Invictus Natalis but it was good fun, until the cold started taking over your toes and hands.

    Happy Solstice to you up there, and Happy Christmas for Sunday too.

  11. Dear Ali, so glad that the nights are now drawing out, am getting sick of drawing the curtains at 3.30pmish, sooo depressing! Must admit bit disappointed you did not go into lurid description of pagan rituals but that's just the old perv in me (must get him out). Bxxx


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