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*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?


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

  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


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