The winter or hibernal solstice falls on the 22nd of December this year and so astronomical winter begins ending at the spring equinox in March. In Irish, the winter solstice is known as grianstad an gheimhridh (the sun stopof winter) The word solstice originating from the Latin sol “sun,” and sistere “to stand still.” But how many of us have taken the time to observe this phenomenon of our Sun’s path across the sky appearing as if it has stopped? For a few days before and after the solstice at noon the sun’s elevation is so slight that it does indeed to appear to stand still. If you stand outside at noon and look at your shadow it will be the longest shadow that you’ll cast all year.
In the Northern Hemisphere the solstice sun is low in the sky which leaves our waxing gibbous moon appearing high presenting exciting sky watching. Look for Jupiter, the brightest planet in the evening sky and see them shine together if you look high above the south-eastern horizon as soon as twilight begins. Also, if you are lucky, you may glimpse the Ursid meteor shower, at its peak at this time of year, although this may require a telescope or binoculars.
Then of course there is owl watching or owl listening that can be done together with glimpses of other nocturnal or diurnal creatures. All we need to do is take time and be still, just like our sun.
Our Neolithic ancestors knew about the solstices because the sky, the weather, the sun, and moon were so important in their lives as they lived as first farmers, reliant on their heavenly guides for planting, harvesting and resting.
The passage graves they built - Maeshowe in Orkney, La Hogue Bie in Jersey, and Newgrange in Ireland - and probably many more- are aligned to the winter solstice sun each with a space in its construction that allows the sunlight to penetrate the inside of the tomb to light up an area. Having the capacity to know that daylight and warmth was returning would have been fundamental to their lives and was marked accordingly.
As we enter the mayhem of Christmastide, we like to take the opportunity of the winter solstice to be still and reflect, to observe nature and remember those who have moved on from our lives. We look towards the heavens, as many in the past have looked for the Christmas star, we wonder at our sun, our moon, the planets, the stars and how small we are in a vast universe. The act of looking towards the heavens links us to so many who have done this before, and time does indeed seem to stand still as we stand shoulder to shoulder with the past. And then just like our sun we move on, engaging in the now and dreaming of the future.
Whatever names, beliefs, and practices we hold at this time of the year we know that we all live the same fragile life reliant on the sun, being born again, returning to us, growing stronger, giving us light and warmth. That is magick enough for any Yuletide tale.
Wishing you all a wonderful wintertime and a magickal New Year full of celebrating the year and keeping alive some of the old ways. Thank you so much for your kind support ,
Richard & AnneMarie (TalkingTrees) xx