Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Winter solstice. Pagan traditions adapted. Some gloomy thoughts.

So we’ve just had the shortest day. Lots of people were sending Winter Solstice greetings on social media yesterday – 21 December. 

Here’s a little info about the winter solstice, culled, of course, from the internet:-

“The solstice has been celebrated for thousands of years. The day was marked by Pagans as the festival of Yule. In ancient times, mid-winter was celebrated as marking the return of the sun, and people lit fires and came together to drink and rejoice. Others, including the Celts, used to set fire to a log to illuminate the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring good luck to their families. Many of these ancient traditions have been incorporated into Christmas; in fact, many people believe the Christian festival is rooted entirely in Paganism.

Some countries have particular celebrations to mark the solstice. In Iran, for example, it is known as Yalda Night and is typically celebrated with family and friends. Traditional foods include watermelon and pomegranate, with the red flesh said to represent the rising and setting of the winter sun. The festival has its roots in Zoroastrianism, which is practised more in Iran than almost anywhere else.”

All the mingling of traditions and religions makes me wonder if Divali and Hanukkah, both involving lights, might not also have something to do with the winter solstice. After all, so many beings in religion come from early people’s trying to make sense of the world around them. 

This year far more people seem to have pinned wreaths to their doors, part of the general lets-cheer-the-place-up feeling that is around everywhere. It’s led to a new branch of criminality: stealing expensive but poorly attached wreaths, sometimes filmed on security cameras! I’m surprised more outdoor decorations have not been pinched. Someone must be selling them on. But even legal sellers of outdoor Christmas lights and other seasonal garden adornments must be among the few doing well out of this time of lockdown.

Anyway, there are lots of wreaths around and, walking about, we speculated on the significance of wreaths, especially in pagan tradition. We knew about triumphal wreaths in Roman times but the ones on doors at Christmas are different. So here’s a bit of (internet provided) explanation:-

“According to Britannica Encyclopaedia, the wreath is an ancient status symbol. Wreaths were made of bay laurel, pine, herbs, and flowers. Each addition to a wreath had a specific meaning as a ritual or cherish symbol.

  • Ancient Romans wore crowns of laurel wreaths to denote power and were often donned by politicians and civil servants.
  • Roman soldiers were bestowed wreaths of honor when they returned from battle.
  • In ancient Greece, the cherished prize for an orator and poet was a wreath. Olympic winners were also awarded a wreath.
  • Ancient Egyptians sewed flowers onto strips of cloth forming head wreaths, often used to decorate statues of gods.
  • Early germanic cultures used a wreath table decoration and later added candles to the traditional winter solstice evergreen circle. The wreath was a winter reminder that spring would return and the Earth would once more turn warm.”

That last point brings us back to the winter solstice. So we’ve had the shortest day. The days will slowly start to grow longer but it always seems a long time before you really begin to notice a difference. It’s much the same with the weather: somehow we always expect winter to be at least half way over and done with when Christmas arrives but it’s not so. Usually the coldest time is still to come. I blame the Christmas carols - In the Bleak Midwinter and all that sort of thing. Goodness! I can remember us moving house early in the new year, a year when it snowed even as we moved our belongings, and the snow lay on the pavements until mid February at least. And no! I am not getting nostalgic for the snowy winters of years gone by.

We had a rather dismal chat on the phone with our son this morning, about the oddness of this Christmas and the general gloomy state of affairs. He lives in Buckinghamshire, which until last Saturday was in Tier 2. It moved rapidly into Tier 3 where it remained for 24 hours before rushing into Tier 4. With scarcely time to blink, they went from mild restrictions to almost total lockdown. He’s a resigned but not very happy bunny! And his six year old, he tells us, is in the odd situation of most children of her age; instead of being really happy to be on holiday from school they are all quite sad as it means they cannot see their friends. And parents cannot organise play days and sleep-overs. 

Such a topsy-turvy world. Queues of lorries stretching for miles. Some people with overstocked fridges unable to host the parties this was intended for and others understocked as they had plans to go elsewhere for Christmas. I’m rather glad our plans were modest to begin with. 

But that’s enough doom and gloom. Today began bright and crisp and sunny, but a tad chilly. Even though the cloud has moved in now, we’ll head out for a winter walk shortly.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

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