Today we mark the pagan celebration of Winter Solstice, and the beginning of the end of winter. It is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world. The seasons played an important role in the lives of our ancient forebears. The Norsemen of Northern Europe saw the sun as a wheel that changed the seassons. It is thought the the word yule comes from the Norse word of wheel, houl. At mid-winter the Norsemen lit bonfires, told stories and drank sweet ale.
The Celtic Druids of these isles, would cut misteloe from the native oak trees, on the shortest day of the year (21st December) and give it a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the misteloe, a symbol of life in the dark winter months. Here in Ireland, each year, watchers gather at Newgrange in Co Meath, one of the best examples of a type of monument known as a passage-grave or passage-tomb. At dawn every year, just after 9 am, the sun begins to rise above the Boyne Valley from Newgrange over a hill known locally as Red Moutain. Given the right weather conditions, the event is breathtaking, as the light from the rising sun strikes the front of Newgrange and enters into the passage through the roofbox which was specifically designed to capture the rays of the sun. The narrow beam of light stretches into the passage-tomb, illuminating the floor. After just 14 minutes, the shaft of light disappears and once again the chamber returns to darkness.
Newgrange was built as a ritual celebration of the annual Winter Solstice sunrise. It is a powerful symbol of Creation, Birth, Death and Rebirth – of the year, the phases of the moon, and the lives of all beings. The symbol of the Triple Spiral encapsulates much of this sacred significance. At the Solstice, the “celestial sun ” travels down the passage-entrance as a shaft of golden light, entering the ‘womb’ of the earth at the time of greatest darkness. This is a powerful union of the heavenly and the earthly , of spirit and matter, symbolizing creation; a time that to ancient cultures was the holiest time of the year since it initiates a time of new beginnings as once again the world is renewed as we go from the darkness into the light.
Some of the above adapted from mythicalireland.com and Stonelight