Today is the winter solstice. In the northern hemisphere, this date marks the turning point of the season, the shortest day and the longest night. The word solstice itself means ‘standing still sun.’ From this point onwards, the days continue to grow longer until midsummer on June 21. In Celtic tradition, the winter solstice is a time of rebirth and renewal, as signified by the return of the light. It was the turning point in the year where the darkest hours began to brighten and the nights would grow shorter.
Solstices and equinoxes were very important to the pre- and early-Celtic people, as seen through the construction of monumental tombs whose passages align with the solstice sun, such as Newgrange. Rituals for welcoming back the sun date from the dawn of civilization, as communities came together to celebrate life with feasting, music, dance, drama and above all, light and fire. Although today we consider Christmas to be a single day, or a weekend event, many cultures traditionally celebrate for at least twelve days.
A key ingredient of celebrations is mistletoe, a revered healing and fertility plant found mainly on oak, ash and apple trees. Long before the Germanic-influenced Christmas tree made its way indoors, a bough of mistletoe would be placed inside the front entrance of a dwelling, there to garb the inhabitants with its protective magic. Oak and ash were particularly sacred to the Druids, as was the holly tree.
Whatever your belief system, consider spending some time to honour the longest and darkest night of the year. Sit down in a quiet place to journal about your hopes and aspirations for the year ahead: plant your seeds of intention. From this day forward, the light begins its slow return, and they will start to grow.