By DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI
The Winter Solstice, which is known as the shortest day of the year, happens this year at 11:28 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 21. Here are some things to know about it.
1. The winter solstice is when the North Pole is farthest away from the sun.
The Celtic holiday begins at sundown on Dec. 20. The solstice, which has the least amount of daylight, also sometimes falls on the 20th and, somewhat rarely, on the 19th.
2. The festival is called Alban Arthan in Druidry —the Celtic Pagan religion.
Alban Arthan means “Light of Arthur” or “Light of Winter.” It is also called Mean Geimredh, which is midwinter in Irish. It is also known as Yule in many other Pagan paths.
3. Druids light bonfires and candles on the solstice to celebrate.
It is an important turning point for all Pagans acknowledging the rebirth of the sun.
4. Celtic deities are associated with the solstice.
Goddesses Brid and Cailleach, and the god Dagda are associated with the sabbat.
Brid, also known as Brighid the triple goddess, is a fire goddess and the bearer of the flame of inspiration breaking through darkness just like the sun begins to break through again. Dagda’s cauldron symbolizes the promise that nature will again grow and bear fruit. Cailleach is the crone goddess of winter and the weather.
5. The Yule log is a religious symbol.
A big piece of wood burned in the central fireplace. Traditionally it is lighted with a piece of the previous year’s log; this symbolizes the light passing from one year to another. The log is burned slowly for 12 days before it is extinguished. The ashes are held until spring and mixed with seeds to be planted. The Yule log should be given, not purchased.
6. The Oak and Holly kings held a battle
Folklore says that the Oak King and the Holly King battle, and the Oak King wins. He rules until defeated by the Holly King at the Summer Solstice. The Oak King is known as the divine child; the god of the waxing light. The Holly King is the god of the waning light.
7. Plants are associated with the solstice.
Evergreens, holly, mistletoe, oak and wheat are all symbolic.
The greenery is a reminder that nature will again be green and life will return in the spring. It’s Irish tradition to decorate a house with evergreen branches to offer nature spirits a place to rest from the cold and dark. Holly symbolizes the old solar year, the waning sun in Druidry. It’s also for good luck and protection. Wheat is associated with abundance, fertility and good luck.
8. Mistletoe is a symbol of peace.
It’s the Druid symbol of joy and peace. In Gaelic it’s called Uil-ioc, meaning all heal. According to folklore, it protects against lightning, fires, disease and bad luck. It’s also considered a fertility charm. It is said that when enemies met under mistletoe they would put down their weapons and form a temporary truce for a day.
Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, 67 Church St., is holding a Winter Solstice celebration Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. in UUCM’s Fletcher Hall. For more information, call 973-744-6276.