the Fairgame Archive

2005-12-21: Solstice Tide
by Meg and Emily

Happy Solstice! Bring back the light!

Among the many holidays celebrated at this time of year, this is the one that calls to us the most.  It's roots go back to pre-Christian practices, many of which influence the popular culture traditions we see all around us this time of year.  But we also have our own traditions inspired by past folk rituals that help us get through the longest night together.


This was a Roman feast day originally on December 17 commemorating the dedication of the Roman temple to Saturn. It was a popular holiday, and developed over time into a week-long celebration that involved feasting and gaming, and role-reversals between masters and slaves.  Although the Solstice fell during this time, it was not until 274 CE when December 25th was made a feast day in honor of the Sun, Sol Invictus by Emperor Aurelius.


This is a holiday of ancient Germanic pagans celebrating the solstice and the time when the days begin getting longer.  Records of practices survive in the Icelandic sagas, including a sacrifice of a pig to Freyr.  This survives to current day in the traditional Christmas ham in Scandinavia.  A widespread Europrean practice was the cutting and burning of the Yule log.  In England and France, people would travel out to the woods together singing as they gathered the log.  In Yugoslavia the log would be decorated with colorful ribbons and flowers, and in many places wine or grain would be sprinkled on the log before it was lit. The log would be burned all night, or all week.  The log was burned to invoke prosperity and blessing on the household and crops, and its ashes were said to bestow fertility on the fields.

Here are some things you can do to celebrate the Solstice.

Light candles. Since this is all about returning light, candles are a good way to honor, celebrate and remember the returning Sun. Two cool ways to take this beyond the simple light-a-candle bit:

Keep Vigil - light a candle (or many) at the same time it gets dark enough to warrant electric light. I find this can be any time between 2:30 and 4:30, depending on the weather. The key is to use small enough candles that they need to be tended occasionally and new ones lit. Make sure someone is up with the candles (but you can do shifts, if you want), and keep candles lit until the sky is definitly lightening or you see the sun. Seeing the sun is great, but if you've been up all night, that last 45 mins between 6:30 and 7:15 is *really long*. We've done this for years, and for us, we decided we could have anything else going on we wanted - TV, videos, gaming, food (especially food) - as long as the candles were kept lit through the night. You might find some other way that works for you.

Use nothing but candles - tape down all electric light switches in the morning, so when it gets dark, you *just* use candles. Otherwise, life is as usual, but you get a real sense of how dark it is when it's 6 pm and you're trying to cook dinner by candle-light!

Decorate a tree for the animals. This is great fun for kids, because it's messy. You can get nuts and bird seed and stuff, but to really get into it, get peanut butter and smear it on pinecones. Then roll the sticky cones in birdseed. Then hang the sticky, seedy cones in a tree. Also cut and hang some apples and/or oranges.

Eat a sunny breakfast. Orange juice, sunny side up eggs, toast with orange marmalade, golden pancakes with syrup - basically anything orange or yellow. Just be a little more conscious of the sun as you eat. If you want to get fancy, try making Orange Pancakes, which I highly reccomend:

  • 4ish big plate-sized pancakes made with orange juice instead of water or milk
  • Chopped up oranges simmered in orange honey and orange juice concentrate to make a syrup
  • Fine riccota cheese, sweetened slightly
  • Layer a pancake, riccota, orange chunks, repeat 3-4 times, cut like a cake, pour more orange syrup over, enjoy!

Play Fox-and-Geese. Make a circle about 9 feet across. Make lines straight across it so it has 4 quarters. Play tag on the lines. The Fox starts in the center, the Geese start on the edge. This is great in sand or snow, it works exceptionally well for mixed ages and speeds, and it's as old as the hills. Four quarters=4 directions=4 seasons, etc, etc. Have hot chocolate or hot spiced orange juice when you go in.

Greet the Sun. Go to bed early and get up at 6 AM to welcome the returning Sun.

Happy Sun to everyone, and we hope it's a good one.

2005-12-22 15:09:39 Emily

Last night at our house we turned all the lights out except a single candle and the ones on our tree.  Then we each lit a candle from the lit one & said something we wanted to come into our lives with the return of the light.  Space & time, enoughness, growth, direction, new life.

Then we exchanged gifts by candle light. It was a beautiful, quiet and lovely time.

2005-12-22 16:29:48 ScottM

Thanks for sharing beautiful ideas with us.  I'm glad your holiday was a nice one.

2005-12-22 21:35:53 John Harper

See? There really are sensible, loving, caretaking, wonderful people in the world. Two of them write this blog. Just in case you've been watching too much TV news. :-)

Happy Sun to you, too.

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