The Winter Solstice has been observed in most cultures since time began.  It signaled the shortest day of the year.  The growing season had stopped in the northern latitudes.  Early people looked on winter as a time of dread.  In ancient times, many people didn’t make it through the winter.  They died or their loved ones died.  They battled the elements, faced starvation, ran out of fuel, and were often ravaged by disease.  Winter was deadly to early people.  Even as late as last century, winter could spell destruction  for people.  Depending on where you live and your circumstances, winter can be deadly even in our modern culture. 

Today we know that the solstice is caused by the tilt of the earth’s axis.  For the unscientific, we say that solstice is the shortest day and the longest night  of the year.  The ancients celebrated.  They knew something was up celestially.  They knew that the days had been getting shorter since what we know think of as June 21.  And they knew that now they had hard months ahead but that the days were going to get longer and there would be more sunlight. 

Non-pagan peoples also have their roots in this seasonal event.  Jews, Christians and Muslims all have festival days associated with the Winter Solstice.  Hanukkah and Christmas nearly always occur around the same time.  Perhaps early Christians used this time to convert pagans to Christianity.  After all, they were celebrating hope. 

It was critical to early man to renew.  That fear that the sun might never reappear gave way to great joy near the Solstice that the sun would come back and life would begin anew.  Meanwhile, the ancients prayed to their gods to make it happen. 


The ancients underwent Herculean efforts to mark and observe the Solstices.  Stonehenge, Maeshowe in Scotland and Newgrange in Ireland all align special light during  the equinoxes and solstices.  Each structure highlights an important aspect of astronomical light.  The fairly new field of archaeo-astronomy has thousands of examples of ancient man observing these celestial turning points.  North America has its own sites, the most famous being the Sun Dagger of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. 


Generally we think of solar and lunar architecture as being druid or celtic.  However, there are examples all over the world and on every continent except Antarctica.   In America many people incorporate the ancient symbols of the Winter Solstice in Christmas or Hanakah.  Observers of pagan based religions practice the old ways.

While most cultures celebrated the Winter Solstice, one might ask, why celebrate?   Good question.  All sorts of superstitions and rituals were performed for good luck and to ward off bad things and evil that could happen.  Of all early people, the Celts are probably the group many of us are most familiar with who celebrated Winter Solstice.

In Celtic myth, the Holly king and the Oak king, twins,  were in a continual struggle for  domination.  At the Winter Solstice, the Holly King is overpowered and the Oak King rules until he is overthrown at the Summer Solstice.  Winter Solstice is a time for celebration because it marks the beginning of the days getting longer.  The cycle of the year is represented by this turmoil of continual struggle.  Neither can exist without the other.

Many of our Christmas traditions include pagan ritual involving Winter Solstice.  Yule logs, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, Mistletoe,  the date of Christmas,  holly, the colors red and green, wreaths, and ivy all have roots in pagan culture or in other religions.  Religions do not just spring up in isolation.  They merge and infuse and often take the old beliefs and remodel them into newer ones. 

So regardless of your religion or culture, you are sure to find a fit somewhere in the winter holiday season around the Winter Solstice.  Most of us are fortunate enough to be able to throw another log on the fire and sit back and let the winds howl outside.


Winter Solstice Information

Music Tributes under the fold


And for a good howling:

Paul Winter Consort 2008 Winter Solstice Concert Wolf Eyes

Somehow Winter Solstice seems like the perfect storm of blending science and religion.  Is that what it is or is it simply an example of man trying to make sense out of his own existence and striving for his own immortality?

20 Thoughts to “Observing the Winter Solstice”

  1. e

    ancient man was ignorant and tried to make sense of his surroundings with whatever meager resources he had. without the aliens who lent our ancestors a helping hand we would all still be huddling in caves and chewing on raw meat

  2. Wolverine

    You guys are just a bunch of pagans.

  3. DB

    This. Watching the eclipse now…woke up husband and children to watch.

  4. marinm

    Saw it. Pretty. Back to sleepy sleep.

  5. My dear wife woke me up to take pics for the Squidette. Camera wouldn’t focus. THen, in my sleep deprived state, realized, “HEY! Wake the kid!” So we communed in the cold for a few minutes and we saw a once in a lifetime event together.

    Very cool.

  6. @Wolverine
    This is for you from one of the gunblogs. I didn’t copy her links though:

    There is a crack in everything…
    So there’s a total lunar eclipse on the night of the winter solstice for the first time in nearly half a millennium, perhaps to commemorate Sunday night’s Senate shenanigans. It’ll be the darkest night in 456 years, and naturally the folks who natter about the spiritual origins of polyamory backstage at every RenFest are in a tizzy.

    Me? I’ll commemorate the occasion by beating a hippie senseless with a golden bough…

  7. Awwwww…hippies? Nah.

    The people I know who practice are really not even close to being old hippies. Actually it does not seem any stranger than some other practices.

    I like those people. They rarely are trying to cram their religion down other people’s throats.

  8. marinm

    I’m pretty sure that we’re all joking when we talk about hippy bashing. I mean the idea of it is very amusing but in practice they have ‘rights’ too and I’d rather not get sued and have to give money to them that they’ll turn around and spend on hemp seed oil and solar panels.

  9. marin, I took it as a joke but meant what I said about pagans laying low and not trying to cram their religion down someone else’s throat.

  10. I don’t mind if pagan women want to publicly evangelize. I think crowds of skyclad women celebrating the solstice (around a big fire or parts would freeze off) would attract A LOT of new converts! So go ahead! Cram away! More nekkid people!

    And they would be a great weapon against the Islamic Jihadists! Their heads would spontaneously combust! Fireworks!

    1. It didnt go over so well outside of Fort Hood.

  11. marinm

    I have no objection to women being equal to men in walking around topless. Equality!!!


  12. marin, watch the first video. [evil grin]

  13. marinm

    Two things.

    Fairies need more practical dress in adverse climates – a flowing silk dress in a winter landscape makes for a fairy icicle.

    I think cloaks are awesome and would buy/wear one to work if I wouldn’t get my ass beat down for it by the Marines here that would think I’m a “wierdo” or suicide bomber.

  14. Emma

    I missed the eclipse, but did anyone notice the moon in the early morning? Very bright, beautiful and HUGE.

  15. @marinm
    You’d be surprised at the number of Marines that do Medieval re-enactment and may own a cloak or two…..

    I mean, what Marine could turn down the fun idea of wailing on someone else with a rattan club at full force, and then, wooing fair maidens in wench vests? Along with drinking copious amounts of alcohol……

    oh, and camping out. I hear that Marines LOVE doing that….

  16. Firedancer

    What’s wrong with being a pagan, and why should those beliefs make any less sense than Christianity or any other religion?

  17. e

    because constantine the roman emperor so decreed

  18. @Firedancer
    That would depend upon the religion, pagan or otherwise….

    Dancing around a bonfire: good
    Dancing around a bonfire of a human filled wicker man: not so good
    Bread and wine as the sacrifice: good
    Human sacrifice: not so good
    Being a pagan Marine because Valhalla sounds cool: good
    Being a pagan Marine that tries to bring back sacrifices to Odin: not so good
    Professing love for all mankind: good
    Professing that apostates should die: not so good

    Soooo, I can see your point. But Wolverine is right. But he didn’t say anything about it being wrong….

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