Christmas has always been a large holiday for my family.
I can remember as a young girl how we would visit my grandparents house and it was full of festivities. A tree so large it practically took over their living room, delicious Louisiana food everywhere, and an absolute storytime must – Cajun Night Before Christmas (yes, it’s real – it was the best). My sisters and young cousins would spend the night determined to catch Santa Claus. We almost did one year thanks to a unexpected cell phone chime 😉
Now that I am on a different path, I’ve come across a few Winter Solstice stories that I love.
Balder & Mistletoe
Now, my story telling isn’t quite as awesome as some but here is the quick version of some variant (there are quite a few, so find the one you like, haha).
Balder was the son of the Norse Goddess, Frigg. Balder was beloved by all – gods, animals, birds & plants. He spoke to his mother of a dream in which he died. In her fear of losing him, she went to each animal, bird and plant to secure their promise that they would never bring him harm. With their promises secured, the gods found a great game to be had with Balder. As nothing could harm him, they would take great joy in throwing things at him.
Because throwing things at someone you love is a completely reasonable response to their new invincibility.
In her haste, she forgot quiet and small Mistletoe. As it hung from the trees, it neither had roots in the ground or wings to be in the sky. Loki discovered this oversight. In his jealousy over everyone’s love for Balder, he built a dart made of mistletoe.
At the next feast, Loki provided Balder’s blind brother, Hoeder, with the dart. As Balder guided his brother’s hand – the dart struck him down.
Frigg was beside herself with grief over losing her beloved son. It is said that her grief and tears turned the mistletoe berries from red to white. Eventually, the other gods had pity on her and rose Balder back to life. To celebrate his return, she declared that all who walk under mistletoe shall lay down their arms and kiss one another
The Holly & Oak Kings
Humans have been tracking the sun and moon cycles for centuries. In order to survive, one must learn when to plant & harvest and that is determined by the length of the day. As winter approaches, there was fear that the sun would not rise to bring back the bounty of the land.
The Holly King (king of darkness) and Oak King (king of light) battle for reign twice a year. Once at the Summer Solstice and again at the Winter Solstice. At the Winter Solstice, the Oak King reclaims his throne and brings the sun back to it’s full glory. Springtime returns and the people can once again thrive with the bounty of the Earth.
Decorating the tree
This was down to a science in our home. The lights, the garland – it all came together in a very systematic but beautiful way. Our favorite tree was one we had when I was quite young, maybe around five years old? That year, we handmade all of our ornaments. Huge bows, clothespin reindeer, and a few I cannot remember. This massive tree glowed that year. We never were able to recreate it, even though we saved every ornament from that year.
I found an interesting story about why decorating a tree is a tradition! Those celebrating the winter solstice would bring a tree into their home to ensure Nature’s spirit was protected from the dangers of the elements to ensure it’s full return with the Sun. Decorating one finally has some context!
As a way to entice the Sun to return, people would host large bonfires. Some would toss in items representing things or habits they wished to rid themselves of as a gift to the Sun.
Logs made from oak (to celebrate the Oak King) [ash, pine and birch were also acceptable] were decorated with evergreen, berries and seeds. On the night of the winter solstice, the log was burned. It was believed that the ashes would promote growth and a hearty harvest, so they would be spread among the fields. A small piece was saved to build the fire for next year’s solstice.
Cinnamon & Spice everything
As a way to promote warmth during the winter season, spiced drinks and meals were prepared as a way to warm the body.
This year, I hope to include the Yule Log and try my hand at baking from scratch to promote some internal warmth and comfort. And as always, good ol’ Louisiana gumbo will be our solstice feast.
How do you celebrate the Winter Solstice? Do you have any traditions that have stayed with you no matter where you find yourself?
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