Once more we come full circle to the top of the Wheel of the Year: 'Tis Solstice! As of 4:44AM Central Time this morning, Winter officially arrives.
Although Earth is nearly closest in its orbit to the Sun, it's so much colder over much of the northern hemisphere because 'the top of the Earth' is tilted away from the Sun; the Sun is farthest to the South in northern skies. This is the shortest day and longest night of the year. From now on days will begin to lengthen until we reach the Summer Solstice. For those in the southern hemisphere the situation is reversed; it is the Summer Solstice and Summer begins.
This point on the wheel of the year is kept under many other names, including Midwinter, Sun Return, Alban Arthan, Gwyl Canol Gaeaf, Satunalia, Finn's Day, Festival of Sol, Great Day of the Cauldron, and Festival of Growth. And, in these days many celebrate the birth of Jesus as Christmas.
Whatever traditions one keeps, it is a time which looks to hearth and
hope, with much feasting, singing, dancing, and exchanging of gifts.
Symbols of the enduring nature of life and of the reborn sun, such as
evergreen trees and wreaths and lights, decorate the
home. Be well!
~ Decorate a tree with green and red ribbons, bells, strings of dried
rosebuds, cinnamon sticks, garlands of popcorn and cranberries, bags of
fragrant spices hung from boughs, quartz crystals wrapped with shiny
wire (like icicles). Hang apples, oranges, and lemons hanging from
boughs (customary in ancient times).
~ Decorate the home with evergreen branches and gold garlands.
~ Tell stories.
~ Carry candles around a circle, pass candles around while chanting.
~ Hang a symbolic wheel on your door.
~ Buy a small potted tree.
~ Make a wreath with holly and maybe some coloured lights to hang in a window.
~ Make and wrap presents for friends and family.
~ Light a runed bayberry candle. Burn it all to ensure prosperity for the coming year.
~ Burn a liquor-soaked Yule log of Oak or Pine representing the winter, whose dominion is broken by the return of the sun. As the log burns, visiualize the Sun shining within it and think of the coming warmer days.
Nuts, baked Apples and Pears, Pork dishes, Cookies & Cakes of Carraways soaked in Cider. Drinks to go with the Simple Feast or Yule meals are Wassail, Lambswool, cider, and teas.
Herbs and Plants
Arborvitae (Yellow Cedar), Ash, Bay, Nutmeg, Laurel, Blessed Thistle, Valerian, Myrrh, Chamomile, Frankincense, Holly, Juniper, Mistletoe, Pine, Yew, Palm, and Silver Fir. Teas of Ginger, Cinnamon, Mullein, Ginger, Willow Bark, Yarrow, Hibiscus.
Rosemary, Myrrh, Nutmeg, Saffron, Cedar/Pine, Wintergreen, Ginger.
Red, Green, White, Gold
Ruby, Cats-eye, Bloodstone, Garnet
Evergreen Trees, Yule Log, Holly, Eight-Spoked Wheel, Wreaths, Spinning Wheels, the Phoenix, Bells, Santa Claus, Reindeer
Associated Stones: Bloodstone, garnet, ruby
Other Names: Yule, Winter Finding, Saturnalia
Christian Equivalent: Christmas
Day: December 21
Purpose: Winter Solstice celebrates the rebirth of the Sun God into infancy. All the major pantheons of deities have their version of the Sun God: The Greco-Roman Dionysus/Bacchus, the Egyptian Osiris, and the Norse Balder, just to name a few. Many myths exist to describe a kind and beloved being who dies and is subsequently reborn. The Christians adapted this day as the "official" birthday of Jesus Christ, the great prophet that Christian theology revolves around, and who has been deified as the Christian equivalent of the Sun God (the death and resurrection story of Jesus was by no means original, but has its variants in Pagan religions far older than Christianity). This day also celebrates the return of the sun, as the days begin to grow longer.
The Christian practice of putting up a Christmas Tree derives from the ancient Pagan tradition of bringing a yule tree in the home in order to welcome the nature spirits into the festivities of the day. The burning of the yule log derives from an ancient Germanic custom in honor of the god Thor, to whom yule wood was considered sacred.
The concept of Santa Claus is also distinctly Pagan. The image of this portly, joyous being derives from three main sources, each described below.
As for the first source, Santa Claus is partly an updated version of the Pagan Holly King, a benign and possibly devalued god-form who rules the year from the Summer Solstice to the Winter Solstice. On this day, he engages his rival, the Oak King, who rules from just after Winter Solstice to the beginning of the Summer Solstice, in a symbolic "combat," ending with the Holly King's "death" (he will be reborn and retake rulership of the Wheel of the Year from the Oak King in the summer). The modern image of Santa Claus in many ways resembles the Holly King, since the latter's colors were green and red (today considered the official "Christmas colors," as well as colors being popular for the garb of many types of elves and nature spirits), reindeers were a sacred animal to him (note the mostly Germanic names of Santa's reindeer), and who was said to be accompanied by elves who worshipped nature alongside him. Elves are a staple of Pagan belief, but are absent in modern Christian theology, which further underscores the Pagan origins of the Santa Claus image. This, of course, is the origin of the idea that elves were the "helpers" of Santa Claus in his toy-making duties.
The second source for the modern image of Santa Claus is the king of the Norse deities, Odin, who, according to Germanic tradition, walked the earth this night and granted "gifts" such as wisdom and prosperity to the virtuous; this is the original origin of the act of gift giving on Christmas. Though Odin was far from a joyous being, and his sometimes severe sense of justice was often beyond the ability of mortals to comprehend, he bore a superficial resemblance to the modern image of Santa Claus in that he was often depicted in the Germanic myths as resembling an elderly (albeit quite robust) man with a white beard, though unlike the modern image of Santa Class (often referred to today as "Sinter Klass" in some Northern nations), Odin wasn't corpulent, and was missing one eye (he sacrificed it to the Well of Mimir in exchange for the gift of omniscience), thus causing him to wear an eye patch.
The third source of the modern version of Santa Claus (which cemented the gift giving legend in the eyes of modern Christians completely) are from historical records of a kindly 6th century bishop who made toys and distributed them to needy kids each year at a certain time of the year, which more or less established the popular idea that Christmas is primarily for kids. This bishop was thus canonized by the Catholic Church as Saint Nick. It should be noted that the imagery associated with the modern Santa Claus in the Dark Ages and Middle Ages often depicted a violent hairy man of the wild, also emblematic of various Pagan species of solitary fay (or "faerie"), before the modern, jolly image based on more benign imagery and archetypes took its place.
The evolution of these various images finally reached their apex by the 19th century, and it was then that modern, familiar image of Santa Claus was born.
Hence, due to the fact that Santa Claus is in many ways a 'modernized' version of the classical Holly King, it can be said that he actually exists as a part of astral reality, and modern Wiccans pay homage to him in this manner, rather than contriving a whimsical story to children that Santa Claus is actually a seemingly immortal flesh and blood elderly man of material reality who literally physically travels to every home in the world on Christmas night, enters via the chimney, and leaves physical gifts behind for the children [which puts many parents in the position of explaining the popular company logos adorning the boxes of many of those gifts; this conundrum was actually dealt with in an animated Christmas commercial in the early 1980's, where Santa Claus was depicted as actually shopping in contemporary toy stores, such as K-Mart and Toys 'R' Us, for all of these gifts, rather than building them from scratch, as many of the popular stories describe his elves as doing! Both building or shopping for that number of toys every year would end up costing Santa many millions of dollars per year if he was truly a being of material reality, and astute children will often pick up on this discrepancy!].
As stated above, the God is a newborn at this time, being dutifully nursed by the Goddess.