For many cultures, this time of the year is all about bringing light into a dark world. The days are short, the nights are long and cold and the weather keeps us huddled inside, yearning for light and warmth.
For our ancestors, this was quite literally a time of life or death. If the harvest wasn’t adequate to last throughout the winter, then hunger or starvation was a real threat. Hunting was sparse and the earth provides little in her slumber. Livestock needed to be kept warm to stay alive and during the cold months of winter, they would even bring some of the livestock inside with them. The early Celts even had a tradition of the “house coo” or “house cow” that still lives today. Although now “house coos” aren’t literally cows, but representations using stuffed animals or statues, etc.
The darkness crept into their psyche as well, the yearning for light and warmth was so great, they began bringing light into their homes: candles, fires, shiny objects and anything that might reflect light was strewn all over their homes.
To remind them of the green of spring and summer, they decorated their homes with evergreens in the form of trees and wreaths (that also signified the wheel of the year) as well has holly and other greenery. The Irish kept alive the Druid veneration of mistletoe, as the Druids respected this plant as is grew on the bark of the sacred, mighty oak tree, liberated from the ground below.
They spent time with family, ate what they had and oftentimes many households would come together and pool their harvest stores for a great feast! Games, songs and stories abound as they did whatever they could to stave off the boredom of winter and give them hope for the return of the sun.
Today, a great many of these traditions are still alive, but many don’t know the significance of the symbols of the season. Today, we have electric sunshine in our homes, endless fuel for heat, easy trips to the grocery to stock up on food.
So this year, let’s take a moment to harken back to the days of our ancestors and remember that without their sacrifices, strength and love, we wouldn’t be here.
This Yule season, on the eve of the Winter Solstice, when the day is the shortest and the promise of the light returning to the world is ever-so-close, let’s take a moment to honor our ancestors by turning out all the lights and exist in darkness. Take a moment to think about how difficult life must have been for them and how strong they were to persevere through it. Use this time to banish the darkness from your life, from your mind and then triumphantly turn on your holiday lights! Light some candles, play some music and welcome back the sun as he returns to rule the light half of the year!
No matter how you celebrate the season, all of us at Pictus wish you all much light, love, the warmth of a glowing hearth and the joy and love of your kith and kin.
And remember…FILL THE HORN! LIGHT THE FIRE!
Oengus, Ceilidh and Tallisyn