Summer Solstice

The first day of Summer in the Northern hemisphere and the beginning of winter in the southern hemisphere.

It is commonly celebrated by a bonfire, and staying up to greet the dawn.  Some believe it is very important for us to move with the cycles of nature, and actually FEEL them.  If you get up early in the morning and you watch that special sunrise, you've been a part of it. The rest of the year is shaped by that.  It's a healthy and very spiritual thing to do.

Honouring the solstice can remind us just how precious each day and season is, because the truth of its passing away is also acknowledged.

Gifts need to be appreciated, not taken for granted.

Some will use a fire ritual to raise energy for healing, for re-aligning and redressing environmental wrongs, or for strengthening the sense of being part of nature, not set apart and individual, but interconnected in a larger whole, including the past, present and future.

Such is the power of participating in the turning of the wheel of the year.

Winter Solstice - Yule

Yule, or winter solstice, means 'wheel' conveying the idea of the year turning like a wheel, The Great Wheel of the Zodiac, The Wheel of Life. The spokes of the wheel, were the old festivals of the year, the solstices and equinoxes.

The winter solstice, the rebirth of the Sun, is an important turning point, as it marks the shortest day, when the hours of daylight are at their least. It's also the start of the increase in the hours of daylight, until the Summer Solstice, when darkness becomes ascendant once more.

However, in the Southern hemisphere, it's the time of the Summer Solstice!

Traditions

Bonfires were lit in the fields, and crops and trees were honoured with toasts of spiced cider.  Children were escorted from house to house with gifts of clove spiked apples and oranges which were laid in baskets of evergreen boughs and wheat stalks dusted with flour. The apples and oranges represented the sun.  The boughs were symbolic of immortality (evergreens were sacred to the Celts because they did not "die" thereby representing the eternal aspect of the Divine). The wheat stalks portrayed the harvest, and the flour was accomplishment of triumph, light, and life.

Holly and ivy not only decorated the outside, but also the inside of homes, in hopes Nature Sprites would come and join the celebration. A sprig of Holly was kept near the door all year long as a constant invitation for good fortune to visit the residents. Mistletoe was also hung as decoration.  It represented the seed of the Divine, and at Midwinter, the Druids would travel deep into the forest to harvest it.

Yule Log

The ceremonial Yule log was the highlight of the Solstice festival.

In accordance to tradition, the log must either have been harvested from the householder's land, or given as a gift... it must never have been bought. Once dragged into the house and placed in the fireplace it was decorated in seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale, and dusted with flour before set ablaze by a piece of last years log, (held onto for just this purpose). The log would burn throughout the night, then smolder for 12 days after before being ceremonially put out. Ash is the traditional wood of the Yule log. It is the sacred world tree of the Teutons, known as Yggdrasil. An herb of the Sun, Ash brings light into the hearth at the Solstice.

A different type of Yule log, and perhaps one more suitable for modern times would be the type that is used as a base to hold three candles. Find a smaller branch of oak or pine, and flatten one side so it sets upright. Drill three holes in the top side to hold red, green, and white (season), green, gold, and black (the Sun God), or white, red, and black (the Great Goddess). Continue to decorate with greenery, red and gold bows, rosebuds, cloves, and dust with flour.

Many customs created around Yule are identified with Christmas today.  If you decorate your home with a Yule tree, holly or candles, you are following some of these old traditions.   The Yule log, (usually made from a piece of wood saved from the previous year) is burned in the fire to symbolize the Newborn Sun/Son.