The Celtic Wheel of the Year cycles next to Winter Solstice around the 21st of December (June in the Southern Hemisphere) when the Sun literally ‘stops’ for six days at Mid Winter. This seemingly miraculous phenomenon heralded the return of the light in the depths of Winter and so for our Ancestors, in the stillness of hibernation, hope was born. Our foremothers knew this instinctively and flowed with the changing Season. River Goddess Boann is our guide for this Celtic Festival.
In Ireland’s Boyne Valley, there is an epic physical celebration of the female power centre in Newgrange’s giant womb-like Cairn. Each Winter Solstice, the magic of Nature causes the male Sun’s rays penetrate her with respect and permission to birth another year of Lightness. The Winter Solstice is celebrated on the longest night and the shortest day of the year. Seanmháthair Gealach’s name, during this month – the Long Night Moon, reflects this aptly. The Gaelic name for the Winter Solstice is ‘An Grianstad Gheimhridh’ (pronounced On Green-stad Gev-reh).
Our Ancestors knew that the Sun had then travelled to the lowest point in the Sky, ‘stopping for 6 days from 19th-24th December (June in the Southern Hemisphere), before it would rise on 25th, climbing each day, returning the light towards Summer. In those times of basic needs, this magical occurrence must have seemed miraculous and a cause for much celebration. A time of hope, community and love. Can you see the similarities between their rituals of the 21st before the return of the Sun, and the Christian celebration of the return of the Son, baby Jesus, on 25th December? In ancient times, this once-a-year solar event was a communal celebration and we can, like them, make it a personal one too. The Irish word for ‘solstice’ is ‘Grianstad’ literally meaning, ‘Sunstop’ and it does indeed appear to stop for approximately 3 days. There is an invitation to bring our lives to a standstill like the Sun, to slow our pace and embrace the invitation of the longest days of darkness.
Winter Solstice is a glorious opportunity to gift ourselves permission to go within. So when that time of year comes again, let us choose wisely how we celebrate and with whom. We may hibernate with plenty of rest, sleep and warm, cosy evenings as well as any festive parties and communal gatherings with those we love.