The Pagan celebration of Winter Solstice (also known as Yule) is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world.
Ancient people were hunters and spent most of their time outdoors. The seasons and weather played a very important part in their lives. Because of this many ancient people had a great reverence for, and even worshipped the sun. The Norsemen of Northern Europe saw the sun as a wheel that changed the seasons. It was from the word for this wheel, houl, that the word yule is thought to have come. At mid-winter the Norsemen lit bonfires, told stories and drank sweet ale.
The ancient Romans also held a festival to celebrate the rebirth of the year. Saturnalia ran for seven days from the 17th of December. It was a time when the ordinary rules were turned upside down. Men dressed as women and masters dressed as servants. The festival also involved decorating houses with greenery, lighting candles, holding processions and giving presents.
The Winter Solstice falls on the shortest day of the year (21st December) and was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of Christianity. The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.
It was also the Druids who began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.
The rain, it seems has not ceased, the dark is upon us, entertaining children at this time can be challenging at times........and yet we celebrate the sun, the light and the start of the first stirrings of the earth!
the point of mid winter, the darkest yet! the longest night......sees rise to the sun.it will take a few more days yet to notice or even longer.
midwinter is often frantic, busy time with Christmas in between to organise (as most people still celebrate this too, we have two celebrations! ). Taking time out just for solstice day to celebrate the return of the light, to get back to nature with a family can be very rewarding, almost brings you back down to earth away from the commercialism that is now Christmas, to remember what it is all really about , connecting with loved ones.
The simplest things are the best, and if the rain doesn't cease! a puddle walk? to search out those new buds just appearing in the earth and on the trees, to look for the mistletoe in the trees.
Activities on walks can entertain children (and test our knowledge!, its one thing identifying trees when there are leaves.....). Tree identifying from the bark and twigs is great fun. The woodland trust have free downloads to help.
Rising with the sun, we lit candles to coincide with the rising sun and went outside to greet the sun and welcome him back. This can also be done in reverse, lighting candles in the evening to celebrate the longest night, either can be experienced depending on your preference.
younger children like making salt doh, we made suns and stars and painted them accordingly, these were hung on the tree afterwards, but could just as easily hung in the window.
We decorated mini cakes with icing pens, we drew on suns and lit a candle in the middle to represent the sun, making a wish at the same time.
The yule log! the yule log was originally oak and had been saved from the previous winter solstice, it was big and would take days to burn.
If you are able to burn a log than this can be a lovely experience, ribbons can be wrapped around it, simple wishes pinned to it, pictures....
maybe something that is no longer required from you, something holding you back, wishes for the coming seasons.
make sun catchers to celebrate the return of the light, these can be v simple. using "sticky back plastic" (book covering)....children love dropping glitter,confetti,sequins anything you can think of, place the other side of the sticky back plastic together with some clear thread in the middle....and hang in the window to catch the light.
other ideas; eat a special meal ( we have two "Christmas dinners!") , eat the meal by candlelight (small people taken into consideration)
or make some lovely lanterns..........
more ideas and links,especially if you have older children
the very traditional candle crown!
Throw a party! we held our annual solstice party, which was children and adult friendly, we exchanged gifts, ate shared food and generally had a good time!
Stories and books