The Christmas Chronicles Part III – Reflections on the Winter Solstice

The winter solstice is again upon us. The year’s shortest day heralds the onset of deep winter but it also promises the gradual return of the sun after a prolonged period of darkness. Our ancestors knew this. Since ancient times, people have celebrated the solstice and observed it with many different cultural and religious traditions. Some of them survive to the present day. Amidst all the madness of the season find time to get outside into nature. I’ve been banging on about this for years – in the way we’ve raised our children, in the outdoor education work I’ve lead in schools, for social enterprises and the National Trust and in my writing. And if you’re still not a believer in the benefits of being outdoors in all weathers, feast your eyes on this article on why being outdoors makes you happy.

If nothing else I’ll be heading over to the allotment for an hour to chill, tidy up and pull a few leeks to make soup.

Happy Winter Solstice,people.

Yule – logs, mistletoe, wine and stories

Happy Yule to one and all! We’re quite ‘big’ on Yuletide in Wiltshire – witness the massive jams round Stonehenge at this time of year and as a Celt I feel honour-bound to celebrate the Winter Solstice in some small but significant way – but you won’t find me shivering in long flowing robes at dawn on any day.

Ancient people spent most of their time outdoors. The seasons and weather played a very important part in their lives. With this I can identify. Consequently they held a great reverence for, and even worshipped the sun. At mid-winter they lit bonfires, told stories and drank sweet ale to welcome the sun back, as the days started to lengthen again. This is good!

The ancient Romans also held a festival around about this time to celebrate the rebirth of the year –  Saturnalia. They decorated their houses with greenery, lit candles  and gave presents. In the words of the song ‘it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’

On the shortest day of the year the Druids would cut the mistletoe that grew on the sacred oak tree and give it as a blessing and a symbol of life in the dark winter months. The Druids also began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.

So, with this in mind, we try to walk in the woods for a bit of reflection,rest and relaxation, collect our yule logs (one gurt big ‘un is never going to fit in our modest fireplace), gather the holly and mistletoe and decorate the house,. We light some candles, mull some wine or cider and read stories to our children round the fire. This year’s choice is ‘The Box of Delights’ by John Masefield. Get a copy if you have children who like a bit of old-fashioned mystery and adventure.

Sometimes we even have a party – but this year we’re battening down the hatches as a family – also good!

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