The Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice

The darkest day makes way for the return of light

Tarotcom Staff   Tarotcom Staff on the topics of winter solstice, capricorn, astrology
December 21, 2013 marks the Winter Solstice, which is the official beginning of winter, and the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. But there’s a light at the end of this tunnel — literally! As the temperatures fall throughout the winter, the light grows, representing new hope during a time of darkness.

Ancient solstice festivals were the last big feasts before food became scarce during the harsh winter months. This magical day was celebrated from ancient Rome to China, and by the builders of Stonehenge to the Mayans. In fact, we all remember the Winter Solstice on December 21, 2012, which was the apparent end of the Mayan calendar, causing many to believe the end of the world is coming. Obviously, we’re still here!

Many modern holiday traditions, such as Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s, have their roots in the Winter Solstice celebrations of yesterday. Winter festivals continue today, complete with lights, feasts, dancing and singing, and spending quality time with those we love.

Astrologically, the Winter Solstice marks the moment the Sun — the ruler of the zodiac — moves from adventurous Fire sign Sagittarius to the steady Earth sign of Capricorn. This is the dark night of the year, a day when the Sun appears to stand still. It’s a time for light and laughter, but also deep reflection.

The Sun’s move into steady Capricorn urges us to take some time to look back on 2013 before we make those New Year’s resolutions. What did we do right? What do we wish we’d done differently? Don’t fight the seriousness it brings to the festive holiday season — use it to start 2014 on the right foot! Just make sure to keep some of the Goat’s ambitious energy alive when the Sun makes its next move.

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History of Yule

History of Yule

By , About.com

A Festival of Light:

Many cultures have winter festivals that are in fact celebrations of light. In addition to Christmas, there’s Hanukkah with its brightly lit menorahs, Kwanzaa candles, and any number of other holidays. The Pagan holiday called Yule takes place on the day of the winter solstice, around December 21. On that day (or close to it), an amazing thing happens in the sky. The earth’s axis tilts away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere, and the sun reaches at its greatest distance from the equatorial plane. As a festival of the Sun, the most important part of any Yule celebration is light — candles, bonfires, and more.

Origins of Yule:

In the Northern hemisphere, the winter solstice has been celebrated for millenia. The Norse peoples viewed it as a time for much feasting, merrymaking, and, if the Icelandic sagas are to be believed, a time of sacrifice as well. Traditional customs such as the Yule log, the decorated tree, and wassailing can all be traced back to Norse origins.

Celtic Celebrations of Winter:

The Celts of the British Isles celebrated midwinter as well. Although little is known about the specifics of what they did, many traditions persist. According to the writings of Pliny the Elder, this is the time of year in which Druid priests sacrificed a white bull and gathered mistletoe in celebration.

Roman Saturnalia:

Few cultures knew how to party like the Romans. Saturnalia was a festival of general merrymaking and debauchery held around the time of the winter solstice. This week-long party was held in honor of the god Saturn, and involved sacrifices, gift-giving, special privileges for slaves, and a lot of feasting. Although this holiday was partly about giving presents, more importantly, it was to honor an agricultural god.

Welcoming the Sun Through the Ages:

Four thousand years ago, the Ancient Egyptians took the time to celebrate the daily rebirth of Horus – the god of the Sun. As their culture flourished and spread throughout Mesopotamia, other civilizations decided to get in on the sun-welcoming action. They found that things went really well… until the weather got cooler, and crops began to die. Each year, this cycle of birth, death and rebirth took place, and they began to realize that every year after a period of cold and darkness, the Sun did indeed return.

Winter festivals were also common in Greece and Rome, as well as in the British Isles. When a new religion called Christianity popped up, the new hierarchy had trouble converting the Pagans, and as such, folks didn’t want to give up their old holidays. Christian churches were built on old Pagan worship sites, and Pagan symbols were incorporated into the symbolism of Christianity. Within a few centuries, the Christians had everyone worshipping a new holiday celebrated on December 25.

In some traditions of Wicca and Paganism, the Yule celebration comes from the Celtic legend of the battle between the young Oak King and the Holly King. The Oak King, representing the light of the new year, tries each year to usurp the old Holly King, who is the symbol of darkness. Re-enactment of the battle is popular in some Wiccan rituals.