When you read this dear FAR family, it will be December 22, the day after the winter Solstice. Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, and marks the beginning of winter.
I am Catholic, a board member of the Ministry for Gay and Lesbian Catholics. And I have practiced various forms of meditation since I was in high school through yoga and martial arts.
But I am also a witch, ordained in the Temple of Isis/ Fellowship of Isis and circle with various other Goddess groups, especially Circle of Aradia in Southern California. When I think of the winter holidays, yes, I think of Christmas and New Year’s, but I definitely also think of winter Solstice.
At this time of the year in recent times, it has become de rigueur to say “Happy Holidays!” as opposed to “Merry Christmas!” In fact, history shows that it is only recently that we “worry” over this fine point of winter celebration greetings. We used to routinely say “Season’s Greetings!” In fact, in the 1950’s, that is exactly what Dwight D. Eisenhower put in his “holiday” cards. Be that as it may, in these days, we are in a Trump-ian idea that we must “save” Christmas, on one hand, and on the liberal side, that we must not bow to “Christmas” but honor all of the winter holidays.
What are the winter holidays that we are interested in being inclusive to? Well, first of all, there is Christmas, then Hanukkah, Ramadan, and Kwanzaa…and Diwali, and Chinese New Year. These are the “big” winter holidays. Winter Solstice is usually at the end of this list, with a few other holidays such as Three King’s Day, which I have always felt was an extension of Christmas anyways—when the three wise men reach the baby Jesus under the star they have followed and give unto Him gifts.
“Season’s Greetings” may also imply “winter Solstice” but it is definitely happening in importance after the religions of the books’ (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) holidays.
So—what is this Solstice and who is practicing it? And do we mean “Happy Solstice” also when we say “Season’s Greetings”?
Solstice is meant to coax back the sun—and is often celebrated with bonfires and candles to “return the light.”
Winter Solstice is actually the “original” winter holiday—pre-dating Christmas, and most other holidays. It is a pagan holiday, yes, that literally celebrates for communities pre-electricity, the shortest night and the return of the light. One of my favorite chants from the pagan song book is one that we sing on this night, “Light is returning. Even though it is the darkest hour. No one can hold back the dawn.”
I have written previously here about celebrating Solstice—celebrating the goddess Elen of the Ways, female reindeer and the “real” possibility that if Santa exists, Santa was a female reindeer goddess named Elen.
And my colleagues here at FAR have also written of the Horned Goddess, Elen of the Ways, Elen of the Ways was a Horned Goddess, but what made her contribution to the “Christmas” or Solstice night legend possible in mythology is that she knew the ley lines around the world, i.e. the migratory tracks of the people, or “the ways.” And so she led reindeer on the ways of these tracks, or ley lines. Read my previous post on this to discover how this Horned Goddess then became Santa, and why many of us believe Santa was originally a female horned reindeer goddess, hence Santa Claus was actually a woman.
You may or may not be convinced that you should celebrate female reindeer and a Horned Goddess instead of Santa. Be that as it may, if you still want to celebrate the turning of the wheel into winter–how can you celebrate Winter Solstice?
The best way, I think, is to spend time in darkness and then come into the light, in whatever way feels right for you.
Here are some other ideas:
- You can bury seeds in dirt that you will then plant. I have done this many times. What do you want to grow in the spring? Plant that.
- You can stay up all night and welcome the sun. I have done this– but not necessarily to celebrate Solstice, but because as a professor my grades are due right around this time…
- You can light a “Yule log”—a log that will burn through the night is a very Pagan tradition. And, in addition, one can add the burning of the old and the welcoming of the new. I have always felt that writing what you want to get rid of, and burning it, is a perfect way to end the year, and then planting what you want to harvest.
- You can drink Wassail or spiced, mulled wine. A witch creates magick when she cooks—so mulling wine creates magick. Serve your friends a spell for a fabulous New Year.
- Tell fortunes. If you hang out with witches, someone must be able to read cards, runes, tea leaves, coffee grounds—or all of the above. I regularly read coffee grounds and tarot cards—so don’t feel a specific need to have my fortune told at winter Solstice or to do divination But I have many friends who, for them, this is the *only* time they do divination and they put great store into the readings they have on this night.
- Cast a circle, or get in a circle with your friends. If you are a witch or a pagan, you can call in the directions and have a ritual—write things down and burn them. Ask the Goddess for help. If you aren’t a witch but want to celebrate Solstice perhaps you get in a circle and your friends talk about what they want to get rid of and what they want to keep—that is the essence of Solstice. What do you want to get rid of? What do you want to keep?
What do you want to do on Winter Solstice? For this is our original winter holiday, for all of us who are human J. We all at some point in our lineage and ancestry celebrated the return of the light.
I will be celebrating it several times. Because it is not a national holiday (as Christmas is) most folks do not have it off as a work day– so Solstice is often celebrated at the nearest week-end day to December 21st. That means I will celebrate it this year December 17th, December 23rd and on the actual day December 21st. I will definitely honor Elen of the Ways, and will also just honor my pagan friends, many of whom do not celebrate Christmas or other winter holidays.
This year as we struggle to maintain that climate change is real, science is important and nature is our only home; I will be donating also to The Nature Conservancy in honor of Mother Earth. Their motto is “Be a force for Nature.” If you’d like to join me in being a “force for Nature,” click here for their website.
I would love to hear from you. How do you want to celebrate and add “Winter Solstice” to your “Season’s Greetings”?
Marie Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall (Routledge 2013). She is a senior lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and Queer Studies at California State University Northridge, and in Film Studies at Univ. of CA Irvine.