Winter Solstice

Alban Gaeaf/Canol Gaeaf (Welsh), Júl (Norse), Yuletide (Teutonic), Yule (neo-Pagan)

The longest night of the year: the sun has reached both its lowest point on the horizon and its weakest strength, and now it begins the long climb back towards summer.  Darkness has descended fully upon the land, and whether the sun will return is the concern of all.  The land lies quiet beneath a coat of snowy white, asleep and waiting.  Although not a Fire Festival, it shares many aspects of one.  One common custom is to light large logs or bonfires to symbolize life and to add strength and help guarantee the return of the Sun.

One neo-Pagan myth of this festival celebrates this as the time when the Goddess returns from the underworld and gives birth to the Sun God, thus returning hope and life to the world.  Fires are lit to welcome the return of the Sun God.  Another is the battle between the Holly King and the Oak King; as the year declines the end of the reign of the Holly King approaches, and the youthful Oak King begins his reign after the death of the Holly King.

For Heathens, this festival spans a time of twelve days and nights with multiple celebrations.  The night before the Solstice is called ‘Mother Night’ and is usually dedicated to Frigga, Frau Holda/Berchta and the Idises.  Sundown begins a nightly vigil to aid Sunna’s return.  At midnight, oaths are sworn on the horn or cup at the feast or on a hallowed boar as a symbol for the god Freyr for the new year.  It’s quite feasible that our current “New Year’s Resolution” came from this custom of oathing.  The final celebration of Twelfth Night is a joyous celebration for the beginning of the new year.