When we think December holidays, our minds instantly think Christmas. Did you know the oldest and most widely celebrated holiday by different cultures is actually the winter solstice. The winter solstice is celebrated on almost every continent and by almost every culture throughout history. This year the winter solstice is December 21st, 2012.
The winter solstice occurs when the Earth’s axial tilt is farthest away from the sun at its maximum of 23°. Meaning “the Sun standing still,” the solstice marks the very first day of winter and is the longest night of the year. To ancient peoples, solstice celebrations were important because they encouraged the sun to return to spring. No one knows when people started celebrating this event, but we do know it was celebrated in early Mesopotamia with a 12-day festival to their god, Marduk — over 4,000 years ago! Our ancestors certainly put forth an enormous effort to celebrate the winter solstice; just think of Stone Henge! (A perfect marker to the sun at both solstices.)
Recently (and by that I mean in the last 1,600 years, hah!) Christmas has overshadowed the ancient holiday. (Although many Christmas traditions stem from solstice celebrations: yule log, mistletoe, Santa and others.) With our modern lives we’ve lost much of our connection to seasonal events that were so important to our ancestors. This year, take some time to celebrate the winter solstice — throw a unique holiday party… a winter solstice party!
Whether you’re having a huge shindig, or just a family gathering, you cannot celebrate the solstice without fresh foliage. Fresh flowers and green foliage remind us that winter will fade and life will begin to grow again! Traditional winter solstice plants include: oak, mistletoe, evergreens, holly and ivy. Also wheat and harvest-time plants and veggies remind us of how precious our sun is to us. (Great way to recycle Thanksgiving decorations!)
Another key feature in winter solstice decor is circles. The circle represents the cycle of the seasons, as well as the sun, which makes all life is possible. This can be a great theme throughout your solstice party decorating. Contact your local florist and ask for winter solstice decorations to match your solstice style.
Traditional Solstice Decorations:
Yule Wreath – circle symbolizes the yearly cycles. This is customarily made out of fresh foliage, such as evergreen leaves.
Yule Tree – symbolizes life and growing. Much like a fresh Christmas tree, decorate with festive ornaments and lights.
Yule Log – symbolizes the old year passing. Decorate it with holly and burn to welcome the new year. If you have a fireplace, burn the Yule log, but remember to save a little bit to start the fire for the following year’s celebration. (It’s a very old tradition.)
Mistletoe – symbolizes peace and affection and is hung around the home.
Boughs & Garlands – symbolizes the continuation of life. Decorate throughout your home, especially above doorways or on banisters.
Fires – fire represents the suns light. Either burn a fire in your fireplace or simply candles. (Toss in springs of fresh herbs to add a fantastic smell to your party.)
Celebrating The Solstice
This year, the exact moment of the the winter solstice is 11:12 UTC on December 21, 2012. During this time, turn off all of the lights, blow out all of your candles and take a moment to consider just how important our sun is to us.
Gifts under the Yule tree are also a big part of this celebration. Give gifts to each other as you would Christmas. You might suggest natural, handmade gifts to keep within the ancestral traditions.
And the food? A celebratory feast of course! Winter solstice celebrations in many cultures are a community event — don’t leave out your community! Ask each family member or guest to bring a couple of cans (at least!) of food to donate to your local food pantry or other community outreach program.
As a old wise man once said, “It is truly is darkest before the dawn. After December 21, the light slowly begins its inevitable return, and the days begin to grow blessedly longer, beginning the countdown to spring …”
The ideas mentioned here are just a few of the European solstice traditions, there are thousands more out there from other cultures just waiting to be identified. To truly pay homage to your heritage, do a little research (*ahem* Google) on winter solstice traditions where you’re from and see which ones you can adapt to your holiday celebration.
This winter solstice article is brought to you by local Anchorage, AK florists.
No where near Alaska? No worries, use Flower Shop Network’s handy directory of local florists to find a florist near you.