Alban Arthan

As we finish celebrating Christmas and with New Year looming this coming weekend, I thought it would be good to have a closer look at some of the origins and meanings behind these mid-winter celebrations.


Mid-winter sunset over Priory Marina

So why are we interested in celebrating at all during this darkest and deepest part of the year? Well for the very fact that it is deep and dark and people have for millennium wished for that not to continue. For our forbears who did not have the ability to ‘know’ that the sun would gradually return, the prospect of continued darkness was a terrifying thought. The very word Solstice means ‘the sun stands still’ refers to the fact that the suns position in the sky over the period around the 21st of December or June changes very little.
Many of the traditions that we observe for Christmas have their origins back deeper in time with links that are much more rooted in the natural world and attempting to connect to sun light and growth. Think of bringing ever green foliage into the house, the Christmas tree! Along with the tradition of mistletoe, which are all ancient druid customs to celebrate the fertility and the plants fruit in the darkest part of the year. Equally the tradition of lights. Pagans and Germanic peoples of Northern Europe would burn bonfires, light candles and bring in the traditional yule log to the house all in an attempt to banish the darkness and bring back the sun to the world as part of a 2 day celebration.

The very fact of celebrating at this time of year also had very practical elements to those early farming communities of the Neolithic. Cattle which had been fattened up over the summer would need food and shelter if they were to be kept over the winter. To slaughter them now would prevent this and provide an abundance of food at the beginning of lean times. Equally beer and wine prepared earlier in the year would now be ready to drink, providing that essential holiday relaxation! Even through into early recorded Anglo-Saxon history, the months that followed the winter solstice were referred to as the famine months, with January to April bringing the prospect of starvation to early farming communities as an ever-constant threat. All the more reason to celebrate and encourage a good growing season and new harvest.

The significance of the changing seasons to those that lived on theses Islands before us can still be seen and admired. Most impressively through the monuments that they left behind at Stonehenge and Newgrange in Ireland to name but a few. Many of the standing monuments are aligned with either the winter or summer solstice and serve personify the significance that cultures at this time held around the movement of the sun.

So what is the significance for us today?  Well, whether you follow a specific religion or not, I personally find this time of year, a time to reflect on the seasons past and those that are to come, with the promise of spring and long summer outings. A time to gather in close around you people who you care about and those who you would wish to celebrate with. Equally, I would encourage you all over the coming weeks to don those winter coats, new hats and scarves and get yourself out into the woods, moors or mountains and feel that raw barren beauty of a crisp winters day. Although we are celebrating the coming of warmer times we should not forget to live in the moment and enjoy all seasons for the what they have to offer.
I’m sure you have all had your Christmas trees up for some time now but for those who are saying bar-humbug to all the jingles and flashing lights I would encourage you to bring in some green cheer to your house over the New Year weekend and give a thought to the wonders of this world and the magic that the sun will bring as the daylight returns and winter comes to an ends.

For now burn that yule log, pull up a chair and spend some quality time with those who you hold dear to celebrate what the holidays should really be about.

Merry Winter everyone!

Danny Hodgson




Related posts