Saturday, 27 December 2008

A Merry Solstice Tide

I have always only invited women friends to my Winter Solstice celebration. This is my particular decision and it has worked very well so far. We follow certain traditions that have grown over the years. We each bring a small present for everyone who comes and take it in turn to give them out. This can take a long time and is most enjoyable. The presents are small and simple and beautifully wrapped. While we are waiting for everyone to arrive we make a pile of the presents under the tree and a very attractive pile it is. By the time we have given and opened the presents it is time to eat. We always have a wonderful cheese board full of delicious cheeses and a bunch of grapes, savoury biscuits, a bowl of mixed dry roast vegetables that are like crisps but much tastier, and a hot chestnut and vegetable stew. We also have mulled wine and mulled apple juice or spiced berry juice. It is a wonderful feast. We share Tarot readings and listen to or join in some carol singing. We put fresh mistletoe up in place of the old and each person is given a small piece to take home.

Some ideas for things that can be bought for Solstice presents are night-lights, small candles, candle holders, tree ornaments, brooches, earrings, sweets, photographs, cakes, lanterns and any small seasonal thing that doesn't cost much. We encourage people to make their own and most people think of simple, beautiful things to make.


(21st or 22nd December)

As the nights grow longer and the air colder the atmosphere in our homes changes, we are less inclined to go out and we try to keep ourselves cosy with light, heat and warm, comforting food. The birth of a child has always been celebrated at this time of year, whether it was the return of the sun, the Star Child of Promise, Jesus, Dionysus, Attis, Mithras, all have been welcomed, celebrated and delighted in, giving us a real reason to rejoice.

Perhaps in earlier times, people would have been less sure than we are today that the sun would return, that the days would begin to get longer and the winter not cover the world with its frozen mantle. They might have put their effort into chants and spells to call back the sun until, by a few minutes a day, the nights would begin to shorten and the people could rejoice and the best of the stored foods be brought out, bonfires lit on the hilltops, decorations of greenery festoon the homes and gifts for the children be given and received. There were round dances, called 'carols', special songs and wild fragrance of holly, ivy and mistletoe to enrich this darker time. We love the heady smell of pine whenever we have a green tree in the house at this time of year.

Now make you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
Cold winter now is set to flight
The sun returns today,
To keep us all from dark and cold
He has not gone away,

O, tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy,
O, tidings of comfort and joy!

Now make you merry, ladies,
The dark is on the run,
For blessed light does now return
And so begins our fun,
Lets drink a cup of friendship here,
And then another one!

O, tidings …

Now make you merry, children,
A star returns this night,
For the dear Child of Promise
Gives us his gentle light,
To keep us all from dark and cold
There're presents warm and bright,

O, tidings …

Now to the Sun sing praises,
All you within this place,
And like a loving company
Each other now embrace,
The happy time of longer days
Is drawing on apace,

O, tidings …
(With thanks to Norman Isles)

In Starhawk’s book ‘The Spiral Dance’ she tells of the tradition to meet at the beach just before sunset on the eve of Winter Solstice. You can imagine the thrill of the wonderful atmosphere that must be built up as they build a fire and chant to gather their courage before jumping into a chilled ocean for cleansing. She tells of the all night vigil that follows, which leads to the meeting at dawn and the climb to the city’s hills and the chanting and drumming until the sun comes up (or until the mist grows light). The children have their own ritual in which they decorate round cookies to represent the sun. They receive gifts, tell stories and each child receives a red floating candle that they can light and let burn until morning.

Let us be inspired at this time of year to rejoice at the return of the sun and maybe our rejoicing will become our rituals that we look forward to when all else is dark. Winter Solstice is the time to gather together and celebrate; to be joyful and give thanks for all that is to come. This is the time to give and receive presents, to cook wonderful meals from the generous harvest and to be witness to the miracle of birth, new life and the constant turning of the seasonal cycle.