Ancient Solstice Rituals and Fascinating Astronomy Trivia

by on December 19, 2015

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In past years I’ve written about how cultures celebrate the Solstice.  Here is some more information about other cultures in an article from the Farmers Almanac.


The Winter Solstice has played an important role in cultures worldwide from ancient times until today. In fact, many of the customs, lore, symbols, and rituals associated with Christmas are actually associated with Winter Solstice celebrations of ancient Pagan cultures.

Alban Arthan, Welsh for “Light of Winter,” is a universal festival, which has been (and still is) celebrated by many people and is probably the oldest seasonal festival of humankind. In Druidic traditions, the Winter Solstice is thought of as a time of death and rebirth when Nature’s powers and our own souls are renewed. It marks the moment in time when the Old Sun dies (at dusk on the 21st of December) and when the Sun of the New Year is born (at dawn on the 22nd of December), framing the longest night of the year. The birth of the New Sun is thought to revive the Earth’s aura in mystical ways, giving a new lease on life to spirits and souls of the dead.

The prehistoric monument, Newgrange (pictured below) built in Ireland around 3200 B.C. (making it older than Stonehenge), is associated with the Alban Arthan festival. The site consists of a large circular mound with a stone passageway and interior chambers. When the Sun rises, the chamber is flooded with sunlight on the Winter Solstice. What Stonehenge is for Alban Hefin (The Druid festival for The Summer Solstice), Newgrange is for Alban Arthan.

Newgrange entrance

The Feast of Juul was a festival observed in Scandinavia when fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning Sun. A Yule or “Juul” log was brought in and burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god, Thor.  It was Thor’s job to bring the warmth of the Sun back to the people. The log, which was never allowed to burn entirely, was kept as both a token of good luck against misfortune, and used as kindling for the following year’s log.  In England, Germany, France and other European countries, the Yule log was burned until nothing but ash remained. The ashes were then collected and spread into the fields as fertilizer every night until Twelfth Night, or worn around the neck as a charm. The ashes were sometimes used in medicine.

French peasants would place the cooled ashes from the log under their beds, believing they would protect the house against thunder and lightning. The present-day custom of lighting a Yule log at Christmas is believed to have originated with these fires associated with the Feast of Juul.

In addition to the traditions from western cultures, the Dongzhi Winter Solstice Festival is celebrated as a time for the entire family to get together to celebrate the past good year. As ancient Chinese thought, the yang, or muscular, positive things will become stronger and stronger after this day, so it should be celebrated.

Saturnalia – In Ancient Rome, the Winter Solstice festival referred to as Saturnalia began on December 17 and lasted for seven days. It was held to honor Saturnus, the Roman god of agriculture and harvest, and was characterized by the suspension of discipline and reversal of the usual order. Grudges and quarrels were forgiven, while businesses, courts and schools were closed. Wars were interrupted or postponed, and people engaged in carnival-like festivities. The popularity of Saturnalia continued into the third and fourth centuries AD, and as the Roman Empire came under Christian rule, some of the festival’s customs have influenced the seasonal celebrations surrounding Christmas and the New Year.

Solstice Trivia

December 18 is always an important day, because it’s the day when the earth begins a journey that places it between the Sun and the three major stars of Orion’s Belt. This connection is made daily, (one for each of the three stars) for the next three days and this journey begins exactly as the Sun conjoins with the Galactic Center (today).

The Precession of Equinoxes Cycle and Galactic Alignment occured on December 21 2012 but the conjunction completes in 2018 

On December 21 2012, the earth, the sun and our solar system were in exact alignment with the centre of our Milky Way galaxy. This event, called the Precession of the Equinoxes, happens every 25,920 years when the winter solstice sun rises in conjunction with the galactic centre. This was why the Maya Calendar ended on this date. It is considered the end of one World Age and the beginning of another. Although  this was the exact midway point when the winter solstice was in conjunction with the galactic equator in actuality it takes about 36 years for the complete conjunction to occur. Astronomically it began in August 1987 with a rare situation, when 8 planets aligned in a configuration called a Grand Trine.  It will close in about 2018.  So, as I mentioned in yesterdays blog, the  earth, sun and our solar system are still in close enough alignment for the energy of the Shift of the Ages to still be occurring.  The golden age is still newly born.

Did you know? Not all seasons are the same length. The time it takes for the Sun to “move” from the vernal equinox to the summer solstice is 92.8 days, to the autumnal equinox, 93.6 days; to the winter solstice, 89.8 days; and back to the vernal equinox 89.0 days (approximately).

Image by Alice PopKorn flickr creative commons

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