On December 21st, we’re celebrating the Winter Solstice. The winter solstice marks the official start of winter each year with the sun at its lowest point in the sky. After December 21, the days gradually grow longer. Interestingly, the meteorological start of winter is December 1. Celebrating the winter solstice began with ancient times with wintertime festivals and some of these festivals continue today.
According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the festival known as Alban Arthan (Welsh for “Light of Winter”) is probably the oldest festival. In Druidic traditions, the Winter Solstice was a time of death and rebirth. The Druids thought the old sun died at sunset December 21 and the new sun was born at dawn of December 22.
There’s a prehistoric monument in Ireland called Newgrange that’s associated with Alban Arthan. This monument was built in Ireland around 3200 B.C. When the sun rises on the day of the solstice, the central chamber of the monument is flooded with sunlight. The Almanac states that “what Stonehenge is for Alban Hefin (The Druid festival for The Summer Solstice), Newgrange is for Alban Arthan.”
Over many years we incorporated ideas from early festivals into our own Holiday traditions. Christmas traditions like the Yule log have roots deep in the past, too. The Feast of Juul was a Scandinavian festival when fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun. A Yule—or Juul—log was burned in honor of the Scandinavian god Thor who would bring the sun’s warmth back.
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