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Celebrate the winter solstice on December 21st

Snow on trees and groundYou may have heard quite a bit about the winter solstice, which will soon be upon us. On December 21st every year we see the shortest day. The sun rises later and sets earlier, but only in the northern hemisphere – in the southern hemisphere this marks the longest day. The winter solstice is the turning point in winter; afterwards, the days start to get longer again. This is traditionally a pagan celebration.

It is thought that the date for Christmas Day – December 25th – was chosen so that Christians could offset the pagan celebrations that take place around the same time. We often use the word ‘Yule’ to describe Christmas, which has been adapted from a Norse word that is applied to the winter solstice. Yule also happens to be one of the Wiccan sabbats, all of which fall on a solstice or an equinox.

In Scandinavia the Feast of Juul was a celebration that took place around the same time as the winter solstice. The people would light fires as a symbol of the sun, which starts to return at this time, and would burn a Yule Log in honor of one of their gods. It is tradition for a piece of this log to be kept to act both as kindling for starting next year’s log and for good luck. The Yule Log is also a tradition in a number of other countries in Europe, where it would be burned until nothing remained but ash. The ashes could be spread over the fields or kept, with some people even using them as a medicine.

This time of year was also significant in Ancient Rome, with the solstice festival of Saturnalia. This festival would begin on December 17th and last for a week. Dolls, candles and imitation fruit were all gifts that were given at this time; however, this festival used to descend into a week of debauchery and crime.

There are many celebrations that take place around the world today for the winter solstice. In Poland there is a tradition known as Gody, and in Pakistan there is a festival called Chaomos. Christians celebrate St Thomas’ Day on December 21st and Mayan Indians use the day to celebrate a sun god.

For pagans, it is traditional to gather at ancient sites to celebrate on this day; however, you do not have to be pagan to celebrate. Many people believe that the Christmas tree tradition developed from the pagan tradition of bringing evergreen branches into the home to symbolize nature and new life; therefore, just by having a Christmas tree you are celebrating pagan traditions as well as later Christian ones.

The tradition of the Yule Log is not always one of burning and now people will decorate a log with ornaments to make a bright and festive addition to their home decorations.

Spend time gathering things such as pine cones to make your own decorations and don’t forget the chocolate version of the Yule Log.        

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