Skip to main content

*Blogstice* - Winter Solstice Traditions




This will be my last holiday blog post, most likely.

Unlike the majority of bloggers who were participating in #blogmas this year, I choose to revive last year's pagan blogging tradition of #blogstice - a play on the word Solstice. Which is what I celebrate.

While this is old news to a lot of people, I'm sure there are still those out there who have no clue that a majority of our modern Christmas traditions and motifs pull from ancient European pagan customs and celebrations - and these traditions are still alive and used by modern pagans today.

I don't consider myself a "pagan" in the strictest of senses - I acknowledge the existence and reality of many pantheons of deities; I respect nature spirits, the wee folk and other inhuman entities; and I believe the planet is sacred and should be treated well - but I don't follow a specific practice or pagan religion.

I'm a secular pagan, I suppose.

That's why I mostly celebrate the solstices and equinoxes, leaving out anything that's been tailored to a specific faith. (Like Imbolc or Lughnasadh - which are distinctly Celtic and often co-opted by Wicca.)

So what is the Winter Solstice, who celebrates it, and what are some of the key traditions and motifs?


Aside from being an astronomical event marking the day with the least amount of sunlight and greatest amount of nighttime darkness, it is also known as Midwinter or Yule. Many ancient Northern cultures celebrated this day as a time of death and rebirth - symbolic of our emerging from the darkness and back into the light of day as the sun slowly spends more and more time in the sky.

The Scandinavian and Germanic pagans celebrated the Solstice primarily with fire - as one can imagine it was a cold time of year and the threat of starvation and death by hypothermia were very real concerns. Sacred fires not only warded off the chill of the longest night, but were also a beacon of hope that life would return to the soil again and all would be well.

Today, a lot of modern pagan groups celebrate Yule or the Winter Solstice!




1. Yule Logs 


The burning of a Yule Log comes from Scandinavia. Originally, a whole tree was brought indoors after being carefully selected and slowly burned from the base of the trunk and up over a period of days. Some say that Yule Logs were tossed into a hearth and burned in the name of Norse God Thor.

Today we have the Yule Goat, a popular tradition in parts of Europe - and it is often burned down prematurely!


2. Feasting and Gift-Giving


While academic opinion is divided on this one, it would be safe to say that the merry-making and feasting commonly associated with Christmas now could be traced back to Rome's Saturnalia festival - an event that lasted seven days and in which law and order were suspended. Slaves became masters, students became teachers, and everyone took on their opposite role and duties for some of these grand parties.


3. Evergreens, Holly, and Mistletoe


All of these are popular choices for decor because of what each plant symbolizes. Evergreens were chosen as they never lost their color and were thought to have power over death. Holly is a prickly plant said to ward off evil spirits and illness. Druids considered Mistletoe a fertility plant, associated with a Mother Goddess. Another claim is that it wards off storms - desirable in regions famous for blizzards, I imagine.


4. Yule Tree


Before Christmas became a regular holiday in the UK and America (roughly the 1800's) and Christmas trees took on the mantle of decor du jour, early pagans would designate a tree in the forest to represent all their wishes and hopes for the coming year. This tree would be strung with all manner of decorations and food items to feed wildlife and curry favor with the gods. Many modern pagans still utilize a Yule Tree in their holiday decoration.


5. Candles, Wreaths, Bells, and Caroling


Like the sacred fires, candles were burned during the Solstice to lure the sun back and ward off evil. Wreaths of things like Holly and Evergreen were protective wards on the front door, bells were rung to drive away nasty spirits and dark fae, and even caroling can be traced back to singing the praises of seasonal deities.






Were you surprised to learn that a lot of the ways in which I celebrate the Solstice are awfully similar to modern Christmas traditions?  I buy gifts for friends and family. I bake cookies. I light a LOT of candles. I have a small holiday tree in my living room. I go to parties and gatherings.

But I also spend a lot of time reflecting on the changing seasons, the end of one year and the beginning of the next, and the history of my ancient ancestors doing their best to survive cold, harsh winters with full bellies and warm hearts. I am grateful for every year they survived and thrived - because it means I get to be here today to remember them and be glad for the opportunities I have.



Have you ever attended a Solstice Event in your area? Would you want to?

Comments

  1. I was always curious about what the winter solstice was. Love the post it was super informative!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I knew some of these, but definitely not all so it was a fascinating read. In my culture, we celebrate New Year's more than Christmas (although now my husband and I celebrate both). I've never actually been to a Solstice event, but it sounds like it would be a great experience.

    Happy Solstice.

    Kathrin | Polar Bear Style

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

5 Ways To Pamper Yourself This Fall

I am so ready for autumn - you have no idea. But I also recognize that this time of year can be stressful for a lot of people. It's the beginning of the school year, it's the end of the fiscal year and time to balance budgets in a lot of companies, illnesses like the flu ramp up again and Seasonal Affective Disorder rears its ugly head.

Those of you who can't fully enjoy the autumn season have my sympathy. This post is for you.

Well, it's for all of us really, but especially for you! 

Here are 5 relaxing ways you can pamper yourself this fall:

1. Start Dry Brushing

Not only is dry brushing great for exfoliating your skin, it also increases blood flow and stimulates the lymphatic system which can boost your immune system and your mood.

2. Paint Your Nails a Fall Color

Put away the creme polishes and the barely there pink and nude shades, autumn is the time to break out the vampy reds, purples, and blacks. Copper is a good choice for those wanting to stay in neutral territ…

Some More Unpopular Opinions

Can you believe this is Round 4 of my Five Unpopular Opinions series? You can find the previous three here, here and here - make sure to give them a read and fight me on any you disagree with. That's the whole point, after all.

So, your favorite internet contrarian is back with five more opinions you likely won't agree with. Let's get started:


1. Bernie Sanders is a schmuck and so are all his "bros".
❧❧❧❧
2. Pumpkin Spice Lattes are actually good. (The ones from Caribou, anyways...)
❧❧❧❧
3. Korean Red Pepper belongs on everything. Eggs. Mac'n'cheese. Pizza. Chocolate. EVERYTHING.
❧❧❧❧
4. Summer is a terrible season.
❧❧❧❧
5. Self-tanner looks horrible on most people. 


Disagree with me? Perfect!

Menhera and Yami Kawaii - So Cute I Could Die

Unless you're an avid follower of the more obscure fashion trends to creep out of Harajuku in the last two decades, you probably haven't heard of the fashion subculture movements that are challenging Japan's silent mental illness epidemic and suicide problem.

*Content Warning: Mentions of mental illness, self-harm, suicide, and other potentially triggering ideas. Read at your own risk.


Enter Menhera and Yami Kawaii.

According to the tumblr account fymenhera, menhera (メンヘラ) is a Japanese slang term derived from the English 'mental health' and sparked a whole underground fashion subculture often referred to as yami kawaii (病みかわいい) or "sick cute".

Refinery29 did a piece on this a while back, which you can find here or simply watch the video below:


Japan (and other parts of Asia) have long carried an intense and negative stigma towards mental illness. Those suffering from mental illness or other mental health problems had very little in the way of resources or…