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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