Wednesday, 21st December 2022 marks the shortest day of the year – the Winter Solstice. Solstice means ‘sun-stop’, and for three days around the solstice the sun appears to rise and set at the same point, moving in a low arc through the sky. After the solstice, the days gradually begin to lengthen again as the sun moves slightly higher in the sky each day. The death and re-birth of the sun is one of the most important turning points of the cyclic year.
Winter Solstice Symbolism
Once again, the Winter Solstice brings a shift in energy. Symbolically, is a time to let go of unwanted thoughts, habits or emotions, making way for new beginnings as we look forward to spring. We celebrate and honour the inner journey and reflect on the insights and wisdom we have gained. In the dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed beneath the ground and from this point onward, the days will lengthen and we look forward to rebirth and the return of light.
Solar Alignment at Winter Solstice
The worship of the Sun goes back to pre-Celtic times and represents that older pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, who as travellers of the heavens moved across the sky. The great monuments of the Boyne Valley were built in honour of ancient celestial deities and are orientated upon the solar positions of the solstices and equinoxes. Megalithic art that is found on these monuments is a sacred symbolic expression of the cyclic motion of the heavens.
We know that the Winter Solstice was an important time for the ancient people of Ireland because the stunning passageway at Newgrange is beautifully aligned to winter solstice sunrise, flooding the inner recesses of the tomb with golden light for about twenty minutes on three days only.
Extraordinary solar alignments can be also found at Knowth and Dowth in Co. Meath and in Knockroe in Co. Kilkenny. There is also a solar alignment in Killadangan, 5km west of Westport, Co. Mayo. At approximately 1.45pm the sun aligns with a group of standing stones located in a salt marsh in Clew Bay. It will linger for a few moments before disappearing behind the left shoulder of Croagh Patrick.
It is possible that Christmas was celebrated a few days after the Solstice as the return of the sun symbolised the birth of Jesus, bringing new light into the world.
Winter Solstice Traditions
Mistletoe was traditionally cut at the time of Winter Solstice. As an evergreen, it kept its foliage throughout Winter and was believed to have magical properties. In times past, Mistletoe was known as “Uile-íoc” or “All Heals”. The Celtic druids believed Mistletoe was a powerful herb that heal diseases, make poisons harmless, give fertility to humans and animals, protect from witchcraft and evil spirits and bring good luck and blessings.
In fact, it was considered so sacred that even enemies who happened to meet beneath a Mistletoe in the forest would lay down their arms, exchange a friendly greeting and keep a truce until the following day. From this old custom grew the practice of hanging mistletoe over the doorway.
Calendar Sundial at Brigit’s Garden
This sundial is the largest in Ireland and is unique as it tells the date as well as the time. It was designed by Jenny Beale and Colin Brown. It takes into account Daylight Savings Time and shows actual clock time all year.
Most sundials have one clock along which the shadow moves, but the Calendar Sundial has multiple clocks – one for each month, one for each solstice and one for the equinoxes. Like a normal sundial, the shadow cast by the gnomon (the bog oak spike) moves across the clock and you can read the time from the hour marks or the coloured lines connecting them. Look at this picture taken 16th December – the shadow is nearly touching the line representing the Winter Solstice!
Winter Solstice celebration at Brigit’s Garden
The Winter Solstice has been celebrated in Ireland for thousands of years, from the people who built Newgrange to the present day. At this time we honour the turn of the seasons, the gifts of the dark and the beginning of the light’s return.
At this special time of year, you are warmly invited to join us in echoing the rhythms of nature as we answer the call to slow down and take time to reflect. Taking place on Sunday 18th December 7.30pm (in person), this will be a gentle evening of seasonal ritual, candle-lighting and meditation. We will have an opportunity to be in circle and to focus light on our positive intentions for ourselves and for the world.
There will also be time to share creativity & inspiration, so please feel free to bring a poem or song if you wish.