Saturday, December 22, 2007

Solstice and Welcoming the Yule

A full moon at Solstice! A rare event indeed. Is it technically solstice tonight, or did it arrive last night? According to the charts, the official time was 1:08 am, or very early this morning. So our moon wasn't quite full at Solstice, but very close.

Today we welcomed in the Yuletide by attending a Celtic celebration with music, mummers and carols. The Celtic group Blackbirds and Thrushes held their annual Christmas show at Heritage Farm Museum near Huntington, West Virginia and it was an experience I am glad I did not miss. Combining old carols, poetry, music, a mummers play, and a step dancer, the show was fast-paced and yet a solemn tribute to the music and customs of the past.

This poem was one of those read by a member of the group, and I came home to seek it out online:

So the shortest day came,
and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries
of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!
Susan Cooper, The Shortest Day
I can't imagine a more fitting way to greet winter. It's a long night and a short day, but that means that slowly but surely light is returning to earth.
Wikipedia tells us that "the word solstice derives from Latin, Winter Solstice meaning "Sun set still in winter." Worldwide, interpretation of the event varies from culture to culture, but most hold a recognition of rebirth, involving festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations.

So if you're celebrating the Yule with music, bonfire, friends and food, you're right on track with the ancients.

My mother always prepared what she called a Yule log, but hers was not a log to be burned on Solstice. Instead, it was a part of the trunk of the past year's Christmas tree, drilled with holes and cut to lay flat. We decorated it with bits of greenery and berries, and three red candles in the center. Since we lived in town and had no fireplace, perhaps this was as close as we could get to the real thing? I wonder if my mother knew what old traditions laid behind her efforts?

The Solstice lit in the official start to Christmas merriment, as this poem by Robert Herrick describes:

Come, bring with a noise,
My merry, merry boys,
The Christmas Log to the firing;
While my good Dame, she
Bids ye all be free;
And drink to your heart's desiring.
With the last year's brand
Light the new block, and
For good success in his spending,
On your Psaltries play,
That sweet luck may
Come while the log is a-tinding.

Drink now the strong beer,
Cut the white loaf here,
The while the meat is a-shredding;
For the rare mince-pie
And the plums stand by
To fill the paste that's a-kneading.
Robert Herrick, Ceremonies for Christmas

The Llewellyns recommend making a solstice wishing candle. A bit late for this year, but perhaps you might make one to burn at New Year's Eve, as we burn our bonfire.

So enjoy the dark and quiet of this first full night of winter, for the coming days will be filled with noise and excitement, and your days will become longer once again.

Welcome, Yule!


Jaime said...

Your Yule was a lot cooler than ours. Of Aaron had to work *eyeroll*. I lit some candles and I made a big dinner but that was it. I would have loved to have seen the Celtic Celebration.

And the moon was pretty last night.

Granny Sue said...

Ha! A cool Yule! I like it. We decided to play yesterday--Lary had worked 7 10-hour days in a row, so he was tired and ready to something fun. We took donna wilson with us as her Christmas present, and had a really good time with her.
When we got home, we lit the fireplace, had a glass of wine--and then Larry conked out! He was so tired. But it was a very fun day.
I like yours too. Quiet and reflective is a very good way to welcome winter.


Hi, Granny Sue. Last night our prayer group had their annual Pot Luck Christmas party. We walked in to a roaring fire in Helen's comfortable living room and the dining room table was gradually loaded down with great food as the group arrived. Once we were all filled we sang every carol on our traditional song sheets until we finally reached the yearly finale - the 12 Days of Christmas - The moon shone on us through the wide windows. Your post gives another rich meaning to the warm friendship of the evening.

Thanks for your warm and loving posts - all year long.


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