What Today Brings
Winter Solstice marks the longest hours of darkness and the shortest hours of light, thus the official beginning of winter. The ancient pagans of Greece, Egypt and Rome called it the rebirth of the sun. They spent days celebrating this time that light returns and everything slowly begins to come back to life. Historically, cultures have planned their celebrations during these longest nights of the year and so use solar symbols to bring light. Christmas and Hanukkah would not be the same without candles and fires and colored bulbs. Roots of the Yuletide seasonal traditions originate from all over the world. Before our beloved Santa Claus from the North Pole, there was the Dutch Sinterklaas mythology. Before reindeer were the mode of transportation, there was a sweet Italian witch named La Befana, who flew on her broom to bring presents to children. Before she was lost to folklore and assimilated into new traditions, it was Frau Holle who brought gifts during the winter solstice. Bearded Germanic god Odin went on the great Wild Hunt during winter, casting out evil and bringing welfare and blessings long before Santa. It is historically a time of charitable giving, a bringing of people together by singing, eating and drinking to the health and prosperity of all. Christmas Caroling was derived from the ancient tradition of wassailing. People of all classes traveled through orchards and villages in the middle of winter, singing to their neighbors, wishing for good harvest and wellness in the new year. It wasn’t until the 13th Century that St. Francis brought wassailing into the church and it eventually came to be what we now call caroling. Kissing under the mistletoe has deep origins rooted as far back as the ancient Druids, who cut mistletoe from trees and hung it on doorways for protection. They are said to have thought berries of mistletoe represented the sperm of Gods and held magic powers of fertility. Druids believed mistletoe had powers to conquer more than infertility; it was imagined to counteract poison and even cure epilepsy. During the winter solstice, the actual moment we are subject to the longest instance of darkness, whatever the accompanying practice, we acknowledge the importance of community and togetherness. We tip our hat to the realization that we need each other. Forces are at work far greater than our individual petty pursuits. We are in this together. Archeologists believe that winter solstice festivals happened at Stonehenge. The extraordinary monument is said to have been built by the Neolithic people to frame the movements of the sun at these most extreme polarities. It is obvious we have known since the beginning of time that the winter solstice is an opportune moment to give appreciation for that which is greater than us. I’m sure the cavemen had their own rituals of observation when the long dark days peaked in power, only to surrender to the inevitable light soon to follow. Aretha Franklin said the key to respect is “Acknowledging that the world does not revolve around you alone.” It is important to realize these warm, inclusive, beautiful rituals are centuries old and came to us from all over the world. There is very little that does not have origins that precede any doctrine, dogma, religion or fairytale we grew up with. There are very few things we do to mark the season not born of ancient ideas. This is not to shame our lack of originality but to realize there were Nordic civilizations, Celtic cultures and tiny villages of our ancestors across the globe who marked the change of seasons with mythical beings and concocted potions long before we attached meaning to the ceremonies we currently perform. How incredible that since the beginning of time, they all point to the same universal truth regarding the human experience. We need each other. When it is darkest, we can bring light through fire, food and offerings. As nature performs its most powerful shift, we can use this time to celebrate the great gift of life on this planet and the awesome honor we have to share this experience with others.