Across cultures, generation after generation, people come together at this time of year to remind each other that no matter what the sky looks like now, the sun will return. We reach out to each other in the dark and the cold, and together we call out to the light. No matter what you celebrate this time of year, it’s likely to be associated with sharing joy and hoping for a better future.
- Many neolithic and bronze age societies (the builders of Stonehenge, for one example) created observatories in rock to observe the path of the sun on Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.
- Sol Invictus, the ancient roman celebration honoring the triumph (or rebirth) of the sun god, was celebrated as sun’s power grows in the days immediately following the solstice.
- Based on beliefs central to Zoroastrianism, in Iran Shab-e Yaldaa has been celebrated for centuries as the birthday (or re-birth-day) of the Sun.
- Christmas celebrates the birth of the Light of the World, aka Jesus of Nazareth. Many biblical scholars believe that the historical Jesus was born at a different time of year, but his birthday was moved to the compete with the other rebirth gods like Osiris, who was celebrated on December 21st in ancient Egypt, and Dionysus, who also had a midwinter festival.
- In 7th century Japan, Amaterasu (the Sun Goddess) was tricked by the other gods to come out of her cave and bring back the light.
- And of course there’s Hannukah, the Festival of Light. In a fight for religious freedom, the Temple had been taken by the enemy and the sacred flame was extinguished – until Judah the Maccabee reclaimed the temple and relit the flame. Although there was only 1 day’s worth of consecrated oil, the flame kept burning for 8 days.
- Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day on December 8th (or the closest Sunday to it) which marks the day the Buddha gained enLIGHTenment.
- Koleda was the midwinter holiday for ancient Slavic and Saramatian peoples. Families would light big fires and invited their personal gods to join in the festivities. Children would visit their neighbors and sing songs. Yule was a similar holday for some Germanic tribes, wherein a yule log was lit and partying continued until it extinguished. Other Germanic peoples participated in Perchta rituals in honor of the goddess Hertha (sometimes Bertha). She joined the party through the smoke of the hearth, giving chosen members the ability to fortell the future.
- The ancient Incas celebrated Inti Ramyi on the Winter Soltice, which is a festival for the Sun god wherein the priests would “tie” the sun to a hitching post.
This is just a sample of some of the midwinter celebrations that we know about. Do you see any recurring themes?
I submit that this is the essence of the Star card in the tarot: the future will be brighter.
No matter what you celebrate this time of year, may you become abundantly aware of ever-increasing light and a future full of promise.