My Christmas Countdown post stirred a comment from a friend who said there was no evidence that the Celts celebrated the Solstice. I respect this friend's opinion greatly, but in this case, I had done my research, so I decided to revisit it, and that was so fascinating I decided to give the Celts, the Solstice, and mistletoe another, longer post, if only for my own edification.
If you find the subject interesting, please read on:
According to the Scottish and Irish Society of the Black Hills,
"In ancient times, the Druids held a special ceremony five days after the new moon following the Winter Solstice, in which they cut the boughs of the Mistletoe from the sacred Oak tree with a golden sickle. It was important that branches did not touch the ground and become contaminated. Then the priests divided up the boughs into sprigs and distributed them among the people who believed the Mistletoe protected them from storms and evil spirits."
On the website, All About Christmas:
'Mistletoe was held sacred by the Norse, the Celtic Druids and the North American Indians. The Druid priests would cut mistletoe from an oak tree with a golden sickle. The branches had to be caught before they touched the ground. They then divided the branches into many sprigs and distributed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning and other evils."
In Kissing Under the Mistletoe, David Beaulieu says:
"We find the source of "kissing under the mistletoe" in Celtic rituals and Norse mythology. In Gaul, the land of the Celts, for instance, the Druids considered it a sacred plant. It was believed to have medicinal qualities and mysterious supernatural powers. The following reflections from the Roman natural historian, Pliny the Elder is part of a longer Latin passage on the subject, dealing with a Druidic religious ritual:
Here we must mention the reverence felt for this plant by the Gauls. The Druids -- for thusly are their priests named - hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree that bears it, as long as that tree be an oak.... Mistletoe is very rarely encountered; but when they do find some, they gather it, in a solemn ritual.... "
Living Gently Magazine says:
"We all have heard of Stonehenge and its function as a megalithic solar observatory. We now know that it has a contemporary counterpart in Ireland called Newgrange, which is estimated to be 5000 years old. Newgrange is also a solar observatory designed to funnel a shaft of sunlight deep into its central chamber at dawn on the day of the Winter Solstice. Around the world, many such sites, including medieval churches, incorporate elements to determine and mark the important day of the Winter Solstice."
According to Rebecca Brandywine, in The Rite of Yule,
"The ancient Celtic Coligny Calendar, which dates from between the first century B.C. and the first century A.D., does not record the Winter Solstice as one of the four major annual celebrations or great "Fire Festivals." However, it is clear that the Celts, like other ancient peoples, did celebrate the Winter Solstice or "Yule," as it came to be called.
Unlike our modern linear concept of it, the Celts did, in fact, view Time as an ever-turning wheel, and like other ancient peoples, they, too, observed the Yule as both the rebirth of the Sun God (the Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year, after which the nights begin once more to shorten and the days to lengthen as winter wanes) and a feast of the dead. The Celtic Sun God was Bel ("Bright One"), who is cognate with the Celtic Death God Bíle ("Great Tree"). At the Yule, they appear in the guise of the Oak King (Bel) and the Holly King (Bíle), and represent summer and winter, respectively. As they do at the Summer Solstice or "Litha," the Oak King and Holly King battle for supremacy. But at the Winter Solstice or Yule, it is the waxing Oak King (summer) who vanquishes the waning Holly King (winter)."
And the BBC states, in an article on the Solstice,
The Winter Solstice falls on the shortest day of the year (21st December) and was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of Christianity. The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.
"It was also the Druids who began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year."
Perhaps it is my Celtic blood that is to blame, but I find myself becoming more Pagan by the day.