Closer Readings Commentary

Winter Solstice Customs ~ Winter Poems ~ new Fairytale, "The Tallow Candle"!

“As the Spirits of Darkness be stronger in the dark, so Good Spirits, which be Angels of Light, are augmented not only by the Divine light of the Sun, but also by our common Wood Fire: and as the Celestial Fire drives away dark spirits, so also this our Fire of Wood doth the same.” —Cor. Agrippa, Occult Philosophy, Book v.

This quote is taken from the opening of "Snow-bound: A Winter Idyl" By John Greenleaf Whittier available from the Poetry Foundation | EDSITEment. For more Poems for Winter- see Academy of American Poets | EDSITEment. Explore Analyzing Poetic Devices: "Those Winter Sundays" By Robert Hayden.

Winter is right around the corner! This year we will see winter’s earliest arrival since 1896 when the winter solstice occurs at 6:12 A.M. on December 21st.

For the ancient Romans, the winter solstice was a time of the Saturnalia festival, marked by gift giving and revelry, as well as bonfires and a practice of topsy-turvy role reversals between master and servants. Like Kwanzaa, Saturnalia centered on giving thanks for the fruits of the earth and plentiful crops that would ensure continued prosperity in the coming year. Business transactions were forbidden and relaxation was the watchword for servants as well as masters. The Romans had a tradition of exchanging ceramic dolls called sigillaria, which they hung on the branches of evergreen trees. Similarity has been drawn between the pointed felt hats worn by department store Santas and a brimless hat, called a pileus, worn by the Romans during this festival.

In Northern European folklore, the twelve days between Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany (January 5th) were thought to be a time when evil spirits were especially active. To combat these forces as well as celebrate the victory of light over winter darkness, people would go out to the woods to gather evergreen plants and trees such as pine, ivy, and holly and decorate their homes with them along with all manner of lights. The practice of putting up a Christmas tree seems to be of rather recent in origin, as late as the 16th century. It originates with the Germans who began to bring small fir trees into their households and ornament them with fruit, tinsel, and small candles.

A holiday custom from Mexico is the practice of creating pathways of light known as las luminarias, or los farolitos in the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve. This tradition has its origins in the 16th century. It harkens back to the Spanish tradition of lighting bonfires in churchyards and roads to guide people to the church for midnight mass, known as “Misa de Gallo” (“Rooster Mass”)—based on the belief that the only time a rooster crowed at midnight was when the Christ child was born. Today, luminarias involve lit candles placed inside brown paper bags with sand lining to decorate walkways during the Christmas season. Luminarias as a symbol of welcome have also been integrated into mainstream American culture, though this custom is most often practiced in New Mexico. Read more ...

In a similar way, the Yule log was kindled on Christmas Eve in European countries and was kept burning through Twelfth night. The Yule log is a remnant of the bonfires that were lit by pre-Christian people during the winter solstice to symbolize the return of the sun. It was traditional to retain a small piece of unburnt Yule log to kindle next year’s Yule fire. This annual ritual lighting was intended to guarantee prosperity in the coming year, extending from the whole cosmos to the natural world to the family circle. Read more on these customs ~ open the Gift of Holiday Traditions: Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas!

Today electric light decorations adorn communities all across the country flooding our neighborhoods and civic buildings with festive light displays to stave off the early darkness of winter nights. The Library of Congress answers an everyday mystery: Who invented electric Christmas lights?! Learn about America's national light display in the History of the National Christmas Trees. Check out images and information on the 2012 White House Christmas Tree and tour the History of the White House Christmas tree themes though the years.

Finally we celebrate the arrival of a new little candle on the block ~ an original fairytale has just surfaced! This little moralistic tale written by Hans Christian Andersen when he was a teen is called "The Tallow Candle." Enjoy more Fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen.

May your holiday be filled with light!