|The Druids Bringing in The Mistletoe|
This is the hardest jigsaw I've ever done.
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!'