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Winter Solstice                  

It used to be said that the Winter Solstice was so important because early man was afraid that the sun wouldn't return. But I've always thought they must have been certain of the patterns of the sun in order to commit so many resources to building huge monuments marking the Solstice. I think it was important to them because it is the darkest time of the year, and the peak of the Holly King's powers. There are more  months of winter ahead. But, this day symbolises that from now on the days get longer. At first it’s not even visible, but with every passing day, the Oak King gets stronger and gradually takes over from his brother.

Every culture or religion that has come to the British Isles has some form of winter festival. For example, Chanukkah was a minor Jewish festival but in the UK it has become more important. It has many attributes of Winter Solstice – a focus on lights, feasting and gift giving. I think this is because the northern latitude means that we get short days and bad weather and we need a party to raise spirits and help us through the darkness.

There is so much lore around bringing greenery into the house and how to decorate and to feast. One fact I particularly like is that when they excavated Durrington Walls, a neolithic village near Stonehenge, they found thousands of pig bones. From the size of the bones, all the pigs were around 9 months old so they would have been killed towards the end of December. So, our tradition of having a Christmas ham could well be at least 5,000 years old.

As I've said before, this would have been an important time for gathering the family together, exchanging news, making sure that everyone was OK. Although they are maligned, the round robin letters that go with the Christmas cards are just a modern version of a very ancient idea. Likewise having a big meal where everyone eats together, many generations overlapping, feels very ancient to me too.


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