Solstice Lore & Poetry

Yes, friends, the darkness wins, but these
Short days so celebrate light:
Today the lemon sunrise lasted a few
Hours until sunset, all day the snow
Glowed pink and purple in the trees.
This is not a time of black and white,
My friends, outside us. Among us, too,
Let’s sing what winter forces us to know:
Joy and color bloom despite the night.
We measure warmth by love, not by degrees.

~~ Patricia Monaghan ~~

In the Gaulish Calendrical Tablet, the Coligny Calendar, the month of November-December is called Dumanios, or “The Darkest Depths”, as the year turns towards the shortest days and longest nights…

Yule – a variation of the Scandinavian word Jul, meaning “wheel” – is observed on the first day of winter, the shortest day of the year. One of the common themes during this celebration comes from the Celts. It’s the battle between the aging Holly King (representing the darkness of the old year) and the young Oak King (symbolizing the light of the new year). Sometimes the battle is reenacted during ritual. More often than not, though, the tale is simply told while lighting the Yule log in an effort to welcome the Sun, to encourage its easy birth, and to persuade it to cast its warming, healing rays upon our bodies, hearts and spirits.

Although Solstice traditions vary around the world, all of them include light and fire. In Iran, for example, a Solstice celebration called Yalda, or Sada, involves keeping vigils through the night as seaside fires burn to encourage the Sun to defeat its alter ego, Darkness. Some Germanic peoples still light a fire on this night to honor Bertha – sometimes called “Hertha” – a Sun goddess who tends to home and hearth…

Midwinter’s Day is called Alban Arthuan, or “the Light of Arthur” in modern Druidism. Midwinter is traditionally reckoned as the birthday of Arthur and the beginning of his fosterage and apprenticeship with Merlin. In the darkest depths of Winter, the spark of the new year’s light is understood to be rekindled…

Charge of the Sun Gods

I am the Light that burns through the Darkness
And the smile on the young child’s face
I am the warmth that melts the winter chill
And the sparks that dance from the old fireplace
I am the smell of oranges and apples
And the scent of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove
I am the holly, the ivy, the mistletoe ball,
And the jocularity of the Great God, Jove
I am found in the twinkling of an aged eye
And in the hope of children everywhere
Yes, joy and love and warmth am I
Where kindness abounds, I, too, am there
I am your brother, your father, the wise one
And I warm you gently in the light of my love
I lighten your worries, bring good health and speed growth
By shedding my rays down on you from above
But remember, my children, be grateful
For my brother, the Darkness, and winter’s deep chill
For without them, there would be little reason
For this holiday season of peace and good will

~~ Dorothy Morrison ~~

Epona is a Pan-Celtic Goddess to whom inscriptions and dedications are found throughout Europe. She is depicted either riding a horse about her or with foals eating from her lap. She was the only Celtic deity officially venerated in Rome, her feast being celebrated on this day between the festivals of Consualia (15 Dec.) and Opalia (19 Dec.) when the deities of the deep earth were honoured.
On this day, draft animals, such as horses, oxen and donkeys were rested.

Epona is the matron of the life’s circuit from cradle to grave and beyond, and is often depicted holding the napkin that starts the race and the key that opens the gates of the Underworld…

Guising and mumming are celebrated throughout Britain and Ireland at this time of year. An array of archetypal characters include the Fool, the Royal Hero, the Foreign Opponent, the Giant, the Doctor, the He-She and the Wise Man. The play is performed outdoors and goes from village to village; it usually involves the Royal Hero’s death and resurrection. In Ireland and Scotland, the players are sometimes known as the Hogmanay Men or Christmas Rhymers…

Legend has it that animals can speak on Christmas Eve. Don’t listen for them though – the same legend says it’s unlucky to hear them!

If the stars shine brightly on Christmas Eve, hens will lay well during the coming year.

In Greece, it’s customary to burn all old shoes; this will supposedly ward off misfortune in the new year. The shoe-burning custom is most likely a throwback to the ancient Greek family bonfires used to frighten the Kallikantzaroi (roaming monsters, like werewolves) away.

In Germany, it’s customary to eat lots of greasy pancakes on Winter Solstice, then leave a few on the table to feed the Winter Hag. What if you forget to leave them? Legend has it that the oversight insults the Hag and makes her very angry – so angry, in fact, that She’ll hunt you down, slice open your belly, and take the cakes right out. Why all the grease? There’s a reason for that, too. Apparently, it makes the belly so slick that the Hag’s knife slides right off – and no matter how hard She tries, She can’t harm you or take your pancakes away!

If you’re planning to give clothing as a holiday gift, take care not to wash and iron it first. Doing so washes away good luck and presses in bad.

To bring harmony to the home, some Scandinavian families place all their shoes together side by side on Christmas Eve.

To determine the kind of luck you'll have in the coming year, place a cherry tree branch in water two weeks before Christmas. Good luck is yours if the branch blossoms by Christmas Day.

On Christmas Eve in England, it's common practice for unmarried girls to knock on the hen house door. She'll be married within the next twelve months if a rooster answers her by crowing.

The Dawning of Solstice

T’was the dawning of Solstice
The shortest day of the year
And we sheered on the Mother
For Her delivery was near
And as we watched the pink streaks
That flashed bright in the sky
We know He was coming
In the flash of an eye
Then the Mother groaned once
And an orange streak appeared
Then yellow, then white
And we all laughed and cheered
Then the first ray of sunshine
Bathed us all with its light
And we knew that the Sun
Had been born of the Night
And He rose in the sky – just a tiny bright ball –
To warm our hearts and our planet…
Happy Solstice to all!

~~ Adapted by Dorothy Morrison from the 1823 poem,
A Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement C. Moore ~~

In the Gaulish Calendrical Tablet, the Coligny Calendar, the month of December-January was called Riuros, “the Cold Time”, when the ice bites deep…

The Eve of New Year or Hogmanay is celebrated with greater enthusiasm than Christmas in Scotland, mainly due to the diminution of Christian festivals under Presbyterianism and Calvinism. Toasting the New Year with Het Pint – a bowl of ale spiked with whiskey, the eating of Black Bun or the Hogmanay Bannock, and the first footing of a dark-haired individual carrying fuel (traditionally coal) and uttering a blessing – these were traditionally preceded by the “redding up” or tidying of the house and its ritual cleansing by brands of smoking juniper. The following blessing was said on Hogmanay in the Western Highlands of Scotland:

The blessing of God upon this house,
The blessing of Jesus upon this house,
The blessing of the Spirit upon this house,
The blessing of Brighid upon this house,
The blessing of Michael upon this house,
The blessing of Mary upon this house
The blessing of Columba upon this house…
On man and woman, on spouse and child,
On old and young, on maiden and youth,
With plenty of food and plenty of drink,
With plenty of beds and plenty of ale,
With many riches and much cheer,
With many kin and length of life,
Ever upon it.

..and as a Christmas entertainment, something Mistress Guernen Cimarguid this did for the Colorado Welsh Society the week after she finished the Long Poem....

[language note: Welsh "ch" is pronounced as in Scots "loch"; "te bach" = "tay ahk"]…(Dedicated to Autocrats Everywhere)

King Arthur's Christmas Tea

'Twas long ago in Camelot, one snowy winter's day,
King Arthur had been thinking, and to Merlin he did say,
"What shall we do for Christmas, bach, to celebrate this year?
December's hard upon us, and the day is drawing near.

"This year I don't want any wars, or green men with an ax,
I don't want any dragons, or anything to tax
Myself or my Round Table.", "Well," said Merlin with a grin,
"Let's have a good old Welsh te bach, and ask the neighbors in."

"I like the idea," Arthur said. "I'll leave it up to you,
You're the Welshest man among us, and I know you love a 'do'."
"All right," said Merlin, "if you wish, I think I can contrive.
Just leave the whole thing up to me until the guests arrive."

Merlin sat and made a list of debts he had to pay.
He looked in all his address books, the cards went out that day,
And in the country round about there soon began to be
A great anticipation of King Arthur's Christmas Tea.

Then Merlin made arrangements, and recruited helpers, too,
Queen Guenevere and half her maids signed up for kitchen crew.
And half of the Round Table soon were helping them as well,
A Christmas application of a very special spell!

Camelot got house-cleaned from the bottom to the top,
Sir Lancelot turned out to be a dab hand with a mop.
Sir Lionel and Dinodan then polished up the floors,
While Percival and Galahad hung holly on the doors.

Sir Modred and Sir Tristram soon set up the Christmas tree
Right in the center of the hall, a fine fair sight to see.
Then Lamarok and Sagamore hung paper-chains and balls
And lastly Merlin lit the lights that twinkled through the hall.

Meanwhile, in the kitchens they were baking up a storm,
Teisennau bach and crempog, and Welsh cakes fresh and warm,
Pwdin Mynwy, Bara Brith, and tons of gingerbread,
They made them all by bushels so the guests could all be fed.

Then everyone dispersed to change into their Christmas best,
And Merlin went to Arthur, telling him he'd soon have guests.
Then he himself went off as well to tidy up a bit,
And draw a breath or two in peace before the panic hit.

Of course some guests came early, there always are a few
Who must anticipate the start of almost any 'do'!
So Merlin set them all to work to help and make the tea
Which as usual wasn't ready by the time that it should be!

Merlin poured the sherry, he had made it all himself,
And let it set to age at least three hours on the shelf,
Then added just a pinch of bat, he wanted it to be
The very best of beverages for Arthur's Christmas tea.

King Melwas arrived early with the Lady of the Lake,
And Niniane not far behind, they each had brought a cake!
King Mark and Queen Iseult came late, Cornwall was quite a drive,
But they wouldn't want to miss it, not while Tristram was alive.

King Lot came down from Orkney on the wings of the North Wind
With his Queen and sons and servants, it was clear they meant to spend
The holidays at Camelot, invited they were not,
But that's the way with relatives, some put you on the spot!

Kings Urien and Charlemagne and Maelgwyn Gwynedd came
And several hundred others who I won't attempt to name.
There was tea and cakes a-plenty, there was sherry, port and rum,
And whatever you can think of, why, I'm sure the guests had some!

They ate and drank and laughed and talked, the children had a ball
When they found the Christmas crackers Merlin hid about the hall.
There was music, too, the harpers played until their strings wore out!
And conversation filled the place until you had to shout.

The party lasted half that day and half the night as well,
If the food and drink had not run out I think they'd be there still.
And when at last the guests had gone Arthur surveyed the hall
And said to Merlin, "Merlin, bach, you really gave your all."

"It's a special magic," Merlin said, and sighed, for he was tired
And Arthur nodded. "Yes, it is, and one you've well acquired.
I've never seen a party that was so full of Christmas cheer,
Let's have another like it, please, but not before next year!"

Recipes from stanza #8:

Poem Source: