December 19, 2020

Winter Solstice Is Coming, By Kate Wolford

It’s the shortest day of the year. The day when the Oak King finally overtakes the Holly King in their perpetual chase for dominance over one another. It’s near both a holy time for many and an over-the-top gifting time for almost all: Christmas. But it’s also a time when pagan traditions are celebrated. For those of us in cooler climes, it can be a day of freezing temperatures and snow.

It’s the Winter Solstice, it’s Monday, and it’s increasingly celebrated worldwide. 

Why? The Winter Solstice comes at a time when many of us are overwhelmed by holiday celebrations. You’d think that would mean that no one is interested in celebrating more in December, what with the financial and social pressures.

Yet the Solstice gives us an opportunity to pause, just like the sun and earth appear to do every December. It reminds us to celebrate the Earth and its chance to rest for the winter. It also gives us a chance to revere our ancient ancestors who honored this time and lived through winter and kept the human race going so we could end up much healthier and wealthier than they ever dreamed. This ancient tradition is being embraced by Pagans, who are growing in number worldwide, nature lovers, and other folks who just long for a simpler tradition to enjoy. The Internet is also helping to spread its popularity.

So what is the Winter Solstice? gives a simple explanation of what the Solstice is scientifically: “The winter solstice is the day of the year with the fewest hours of daylight, and it marks the start of astronomical winter. After the winter solstice, days start becoming longer and nights shorter as spring approaches.” It takes place between December 20 and 23 and also marks the first day of winter here in the Northern Hemisphere. (In the Southern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice happens in June.)

Celebrating the Winter and Summer Solstices (and other important events like seasons and equinoxes) was so vital to ancient people that they built monuments to help mark it. Stonehenge, Chaco Canyon, NM, and the Karnak Temple in Egypt are only three structures that commemorate the solstices. These structures are elaborate and sophisticated and would have entailed long-term building projects likely involving massive expenditures and human labor. (Learn more at The Old Farmer’s Almanac.)

So how might we celebrate the Winter Solstice? Here are some simple suggestions:

You can do something as simple as watching the sun rise or set on Dec. 21 (Monday).

Or, just light a candle sit and watch it, letting thoughts drift through your head as you let your gaze soften. This form of meditation allows you to rest your mind, much like winter allows the Earth to rest. 

If you are interested in a specific Winter Solstice meditation, come here on Monday and follow the mediation we’ll be posting. This is a new offering from EC, and hopefully, we’ll be able to celebrate with more meditations as the year goes on.

If you’re in the mood for a fairy tale (hopefully you are:) and feel snowish, read these variants of “The Snow Child.” They are perfect to read by the fire alone or with a crowd.

Maybe you’ve noticed that fire has frequently made its way into this post. That’s because Dec. 21 will be the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It always has been. Until very recently in history, people needed fires for light and warmth. So the Yule Log, so popular in holiday celebrations, was both festive and practical. If you’re interested in building your own, here’s a tutorial.

As for decor: if you’d like to go super simple, bring in some evergreens and put some around your home. Just a bit of fresh holly, fir or mistletoe will do the trick. The Peculiar Brunette has an exhaustive list of information on the Winter Solstice and Yule, including decor tips. (Wondering about Yule?) Here’s an explainer.

As for the Holly King and the Oak King tradition, it addresses the dying and renewal of light and the seasons. The Oak King, who represents heat and light and growing crops, successfully battles the Holly King on the first day of Winter. From that point on, the days get a bit longer every 24 hours. The Holly King represents the dark and cold that the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere needs to rejuvenate and for plants that need chill to receive it. When he vanquishes the Oak King, every June, the Earth gets increasingly less light and heat, which keeps plants from growing too much or suffering from intense, prolonged heat. You can learn more about the Holy King and Oak King at Wicca Living

You can’t have a holiday without food, and Winter Solstice food tends to be savory and spicy to help warm us up—but sweets and libations are important as well. Kiki Dombrowski has some delicious, easy recipes to enjoy on Dec. 21.

There’s so much to do at Winter Solstice: storytelling, cooking, meditating, decorating with evergreens, sitting by a fire—try a little or a lot of these traditions on Monday. You may just find some magic on that darkest day.

One more thing: Monday night will also feature a very rare astronomical event, with Jupiter and Saturn appearing to form what is being called “a Christmas star.” This is the first time in 800 years that the two planets will be so visible, although the planets pass each other by every 20 years or so. You can learn more here.

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