Thursday 21 December marks winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The point of midwinter with the shortest day and longest night of the year. There are ways to celebrate the winter solstice. This astronomical phenomenon is considered an important meteorological event marking the point of deepest winter. With many cultures celebrating the shortening of nights and the lengthening of days when the solstice day has passed.
Here in the UK, the winter solstice is seen by many as a traditional changing of the seasons. Since the Bronze Age, this has been celebrated with festivals and gatherings. Winter solstice celebrations originate from our pagan Scandinavian and Germanic ancestors. Who saw the solstice as the start of the twelve-day festival of ‘yule’.
Today, these ancient yule celebrations are thought to have influenced many modern Christmas traditions, such as Christmas trees, wreaths and yule logs. With the solstice signalling the official start of 12 days of yuletide celebrations. Gatherings marking the winter solstice remain popular, particularly at Stonehenge, whose stones are aligned on a direct sight-line with the sunrise on the solstice day.
While attending a special event at Stonehenge is the traditional way of celebrating the winter solstice, Few of us are inclined to stand on the wintry expanse of Salisbury Plain waiting for the sun to rise. There are, however, other ways to mark winter solstice and the start of the traditional yuletide celebrations – and by much cosier means.
Here, we share eight ways to celebrate the winter solstice with your family, friends and loved ones.
In ancient times, people worried that the shortening days meant that the sunlight would eventually run out, with daylight never to return. This myth gave rise to the solstice tradition of creating lanterns to bring light to the perpetual darkness should the sun not return. Crafting a solstice lantern is a great way to mark the occasion. Especially if you’re sharing the day with young children.
While most families who celebrate Christmas will probably have their trees up long before the solstice, historically they would have been positioned in households on the evening of the winter solstice. This tradition originates from the Celts, who held evergreen trees sacred, believing them to represent the eternal spirit of the gods. If you already have a Christmas tree, choose one in your garden to become the yule tree, and decorate it with berries, nuts and acorns, encouraging birds to live off the tree during the harsh winter months.
Due to their shape and colour, oranges have come to symbolise the returning of the sun following the winter solstice, and were traditionally scattered around the home on solstice-eve. Making an orange pomander is a great way to mark the solstice while filling your home with spicy and fresh festive fragrance. Just in time for Christmas. To create an orange clove pomander, you’ll need a large orange, some cloves and a ribbon. Tie the ribbon around the orange to create a hanger, then poke the cloves into the peel.
Get the kids crafting this Christmas by spending the winter solstice creating small sun-shaped decorations to hang on the Christmas tree. As we mentioned earlier, the sun is an enduring symbol of the solstice. Hanging emblems on the yule tree supposedly brings good luck in the New Year.
In ancient times, the winter solstice was the last day in which animals were permitted to graze the land, before being slaughtered for their meat. So they wouldn’t die in the harsh winter conditions through lack of food. Pagan cultures would mark the solstice with a feast, in which families would come together to enjoy what would often be the last meat dish of the winter. Why not recreate this celebration by hosting your own cosy solstice feast in the company of your friends and family?
While we wouldn’t recommend this if you have school and work the next day. One of the simplest ways to bring in the solstice is to stay up all night, drinking, eating and making merry with friends and family. Historically, people would stay up and await the return of the sun whilst sharing poetry and songs with their families. Enjoying all the remnants of the solstice feast.
While few of us need an excuse to indulge in a slab of festive yule log, the night of the winter solstice all but demands it. Who are we to argue with that? Yule log originates from Scandinavia, where it remains a popular sweet treat to mark the start of the twelve-day yuletide festivities. If you fancy having a go at making your own in time for the midwinter celebrations. Here’s a recipe for a delicious chocolate version.
In the days before electricity, candles were burnt throughout the solstice night to bring light and warmth to the feasts and festivities. On December 21, fill your home with candles and try to avoid using electric lighting. For the ultimate in solstice cosiness. To keep things even more festive, burn seasonal scented candles that fill your home with festive scent. Particularly ones infused with natural extracts of orange, clove, nutmeg and spices. We’ve listed a handful of our favourite winter solstice candles below.
For more festive inspiration to help get your home ready for the holidays. Head to the Parks blog for our Christmas home advice and gift guides. Or, to browse our full collection of seasonal scents, visit the homepage today.