The Winter Solstice (on or about DEC-21):
Ancient and recent celebrations, from Druids to
Native Americans. Other Winter Solstice web sites.
December celebrations in many faiths and locations - ancient and modern (Cont'd)
DRUIDISM: Druids and Druidesses formed the professional class in ancient Celtic society. They performed
the functions of modern day priests, teachers, ambassadors, astronomers,
genealogists, philosophers, musicians, theologians, scientists, poets
and judges. Druids led all public rituals, which were normally held within fenced
groves of sacred trees. The solstice is the time of the death of the old
sun and the birth of the dark-half of the year. It was called:
"Alban Arthuan by the ancient
Druids. It is the end of month of the Elder Tree and the start of the
month of the Birch. The three days before Yule is a magical time. This
is the time of the Serpent Days or transformation...The Elder and Birch
stand at the entrance to Annwn or Celtic underworld where all life was
formed. Like several other myths they guard the entrance to the
underworld. This is the time the Sun God journey's thru the underworld
to learn the secrets of death and life. And bring out those souls to be
A modern-day Druid, Amergin
Aryson, has composed a Druidic ritual for the Winter Solstice. 2
INCA RELIGION: The ancient Incas celebrated a festival if
Inti Raymi at the time of the Winter Solstice. Since the Inca Empire was mainly
south of the equator, the festival was held in June. It celebrates "the
Festival of the Sun where the god of the Sun, Wiracocha, is honored." 3 Ceremonies were banned by the Roman Catholic conquistadors
in 1572 as part of their forced
conversions of the Inca people to Christianity. A local group of Quecia
Indians in Cusco, Peru revived the festival in 1944. It is now a
major festival which begins in Cusco and proceeds to an ancient
amphitheater a few miles away. |
IRAN: Shabe-Yalda (a.k.a. Shab-e Yaldaa) is celebrated
in Iran by followers of many religions. It originated in Zoroastrianism, the state religion which
preceded Islam. The name refers to the birthday or rebirth of the sun.
People gather at home around a korsee -- a low square table -- all
night. They tell stories and read poetry. They eat watermelons,
pomegranates and a special dried fruit/nut mix. Bonfires are lit
ISLAM: During the period 1997 to 1999, the first day of the Islamic
lunar month of Ramadan occurred in December. The nominal dates were
1997-DEC-31, 1998-DEC-20 and 1999-DEC-9. In some countries, the actual date for the start of
Ramadan depends upon the sighting of the crescent moon, and thus can be
delayed by a few days from the nominal date. This is the holiest period in
the Islamic year. It honors the lunar month in which the Qura'n was revealed
by God to humanity. "It is during this month that Muslims observe
the Fast of Ramadan. Lasting for the entire month, Muslims fast during the
daylight hours and in the evening eat small meals and visit with friends and
family. It is a time of worship and contemplation. A time to strengthen
family and community ties." 5
Because Ramadan is part of a lunar-based calendar, it starts about 11
days earlier each year. In the year 2000, the nominal date was NOV-27.
Ramadan is thus not associated with the winter solstice as are other
religious celebrations. It is just by coincidence that it has occurred
during December near the end of the 20th century. It will again be a December observation in the early 2030's
JUDAISM: Jews celebrate an 8 day festival of Hanukkah, (a.k.a. Feast of Lights, Festival of lights, Feast of
Dedication, Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hanukah). It recalls the war fought by
the Maccabees in the cause of religious freedom. Antiochus, the king of
Syria, conquered Judea in the 2nd century BCE. He
terminated worship in the
Temple and stole the sacred lamp, the menorah, from before the altar.
At the time of the solstice, they
rededicated the Temple to a Pagan deity. Judah
the Maccabee lead a band of rebels, and succeeding in retaking
Jerusalem. They restored the temple and lit the menorah. It was exactly
three years after the flame had been extinguished -- at the time of the
Although they had found only sufficient consecrated oil to last for 24
hours, the flames burned steadily for eight days.
have nine branches; the ninth branch is for the shamash, or servant light,
which is used to light the other eight candles. People eat potato latkes,
exchange gifts, and play dreidel games. And as they gaze at the light of the
menorah, they give thanks for the miracle in the Temple long ago." 6
Modern-day Jews celebrate Hanukkah by lighting one candle for each of the
eight days of the festival. Once a minor festival, it has been growing in
importance in recent years, perhaps because of the popularity of
NATIVE AMERICAN SPIRITUALITY: Many Native American communities hold religious or community events at the time of the solstice.
The Pueblo tribe observe both the summer and winter solstices.
Although the specific details of the rituals differ from pueblo to
pueblo, "the rites are built around the sun, the coming new year
and the rebirth of vegetation in the spring....Winter solstice rites
include...prayerstick making, retreats, altars, emesis, and prayers for
The Hopi tribe "is dedicated to giving aid and direction to
the sun which is ready to 'return' and give strength to budding life."
Their ceremony is called "Soyal." It lasts for 20 days and
includes "prayerstick making, purification, rituals and a
concluding rabbit hunt, feast and blessing..." 7
There are countless stone and wooden structures that were created by Native Americans in the past to detect the solstices and equinoxes.
One was called Calendar One by the person who found it in modern times. It is in a natural
amphitheater of about 20 acres in size in Vermont. From a stone
enclosure in the center of the bowl, one can see a number of vertical
rocks and natural features in the horizon which formed the edge of the bowl.
At the solstices and equinoxes, the sun rises and sets at notches
or peaks in the ridge which surrounded the calendar. 8
- Another is at Cahoki, adjacent to Collinsville, IL, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, MI:
Today, it is
called "Woodhenge" and consists five separate timber circles, one of which is shown above in an artist's reconstruction by Herb Roe. Each circle consists of many vertical wooden posts. The posts were of red cedar, which is considered sacred by many Native American groups. At sunrise on the Winter Solstice, two of the posts; the remains of a nearby mound; and the Sun; formed a straight line. The mound was once a temple built on top of an earthen pyramid with a flat top.The same observation occurs at the time of the Summer Solstice with a different temple and pyramid.
Web sites with more information on the solstice:
Mike Nichols, "Yule: Circa December 21," at: http://paganwiccan.about.com/
Newgrange images are at: www.knowth.com/newgrange.htm
Maeshowe images are available at:
"Mythical Ireland: New light on the ancient past,"
Selena Fox, "Winter solstice celebrations for families and
Robert Burns, "Paying Homage to the Return of the Sun," LA
Times, 2001-DEC-6, at: http://www.latimes.com/technology/custom/techtimes/
Aerial Images of Newgrange and Knowth megalithic passage tombs
can be seen at: http://www.knowth.com/
Ellen Jackson has a Winter Solstice web site Winter
Solstice web site with essays,
quotes, a guest book, and excerpts from her book "The Winter
Solstice." According to a School Library Journal review: "This picture book
does a solid job of explaining various early peoples' attitudes
about the winter solstice and related rituals and traditions.
Included are the Celtics, Romans, and Native Americans (among
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Additional web sites that discuss the Winter Solstice
References used in the preparation of this essay:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Celli Laughing Coyote, "Yule - Winter Solstice: The longest night
of the year," at: http://www.whitemtns.com/
Amergub Aryson, "Winter Solstice," at: http://www.adf.org/
"Inti Raymi '98," at: http://www.infoperu.com/
"Shab-e Yalda," at: http://www.payk.net/
Ramadan on the Net, at: http://www.holidays.net/
"Hanukkah: The festival of lights," at: http://www.education-world.com/
A. Hirschfelder & P. Molin, "The encyclopedia of Native
American religions," Facts on File, (1992).
J.W. Mavor & B.E. Dix, "Manitou: The sacred landscape of New
England's Native Civilization." Inner Traditions (1989).
"Cahokia Woodhenge," Wikipedia, as on 2018-JUL-09, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cahokia_Woodhenge
Image is an artist's conception of the winter solstice sunrise over Fox Mound as seen from the Woodhenge timber circle circa 1000 CE at the Mississippian culture Cahokia Mounds site near Collinsville, Illinois. The temple shown at the top of the Fox Mound no longer exists, All rights to the image are held by the artist, Herb Roe © 2017. The image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. See: https://commons.wikimedia.org/
Copyright © 1999 to 2018, by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 1999-DEC-03
Latest update: 2018-DEC-22
Author: B.A. Robinson