Welcome everything! Welcome all alike what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be, to your shelter underneath the holly, to your places around the Christmas fire, where what is sits open-hearted! - Charles Dickens, 1851
Whether you are a Christian farmer, descended from Druids or just a modern-day human making your way through this life, Winter Solstice has meaning. My friends welcome the Winter Solstice as a balm for the year's longest night or shortest day (depending on how you look at it), ushering in the time of a longer growing season. This year, just before sunrise on the 22nd of December, 5:19 a.m. to be exact, Mallorca will welcome back the Sun, a ritual that began over three thousand years before the coming of Christ. A tiny shiver of light will not be seen at the Palma Cathedral until after the official moment but watching the light through the Rose Window from Es Baluard is a tradition for many spiritual seekers.
What is Solstice? #
Twice a year, an anatomic Solstice occurs because Earth’s axis of rotation is tilted about 23.4 degrees relative to Earth’s orbit around the sun. This tilt is what drives our planet's seasons, as the Northern and Southern Hemispheres get unequal amounts of sunlight over the course of a year. From March to September, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted more toward the sun, driving its spring and summer. From September to March, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away, so it feels autumn and winter. The Southern Hemisphere's seasons are reversed.
On two moments each year—what we call solstices—Earth's axis is tilted most closely toward the sun. The hemisphere tilted most toward our home star sees its longest day, while the hemisphere tilted away from the sun sees its longest night. During the Northern Hemisphere’s summer solstice—which always falls around June 21—the Southern Hemisphere gets its winter solstice. Likewise, during the Northern Hemisphere's winter solstice—which falls around December 22—the Southern Hemisphere gets its summer solstice.
Earth is not the only planet with solstices and equinoxes; any planet with a tilted rotational axis would see them, too. In fact, planetary scientists use solstices and equinoxes to define “seasons” for other planets in our solar system.
History of Winter Solstice Festivals #
We can trace the Solstice on Mallorca, in its current incarnation, back to the Roman presence on the island with their arrival in 123 CE, led by General Quintus Caecilius Metellus, heralded the start of the period of Romanisation. “Saturn’s Games,” the ancient festival from which we derive many of the traditional celebrations associated with Midwinter is the Roman Saturnalia. The Roman presence in Britain and other parts of Europe from second century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. probably accounts for this too. During this time, the Romans suppressed many of the older practices of the Celts, meaning those of the learned Druids.
Saturnalia itself developed from the older rituals of Midwinter into a riotous assemblage of fun, laughter, and gift giving. It is from this festival that we received the idea of giving gifts at Christmas, not from gifts of the Magi as commonly supposed. As the name suggests, this festival honors Saturn, the Roman God of Agriculture and Time, who is thought to have received his name from the Latin satus, “to sow.” His feast was celebrated from December 17th to the 24th, during which time the normal patterns of social behavior were abandoned.
Modern Day Celebrations #
In our own time, the Winter Solstice is indissolubly linked with the festival of Christmas. This weekend will usher in a horde of tourists and the locals will begin descending on our villages to take a break from work, enjoy a more quiet time with family and friends. Local friends take time to bake goods and make presents for the Christmas Eve and Day dinners.
If the holidays are a time when you feel sad and disconnected, you can still participate in rituals that help welcome the Light back to your world.
Here are a few ideas #
Have a wreath making party with friends and assemble items found on a nature walk that represent the season for you. Gather stones, sheep’s wool, pinon branches, twigs and moss. Find a candle and honor the coming of the Light. We can borrow traditions from the Celtic World and honor whatever beliefs give you comfort. This is the time to honor that which never dies.
Enjoy Shrimp from Port Andratx as a treat for Christmas Eve. This is not inexpensive but can be super delicious with my native-born friends telling me of their families making the special trip to the Port because the 'gambas' are sweet. Just remember to arrive to the port early as many locals know the catch sells out quickly. If you miss out at the Port, visit any local fish market and enjoy the seafood.
Break the cycle of bad gift giving and make something special for friends and family. If you aren't feeling particularly creative, buy Rosca de Reyes and Turron from local bakeries and cafes to offer visiting friends and family with afternoon café and tea or the dessert after dinner. The point here is to get out of yourself - that feeling of loneliness usually stems from feeling disconnected to those around you. What better antidote than to think about others.
As mentioned earlier, a local Palma ritual is to go to the Cathedral for sunrise to see the sun shine though the Rose Window. A sight to behold.
Ritual grounds us to our sense of place. Mallorca is a four-season island. Winter months lend themselves to movies, staying home and warm, hot chocolate and meals with friends. This is a quieter time of year when the beaches are empty of tourists but the waters churn up. If you want to watch a movie that will have you all talking for a week and see beautiful landscape of the island, watch Cloud Atlas as you eat one of the many meals we offer here in the magazine. Honor Winter Solstice and know that the Light is returning, the days will once again be full of sun, sand and tourists.
- National Geographic, writer: Michael Greshko
- Personal Experience
- The Sacred Traditions of Christmas by John Matthews
By Memphis Holland
21 December, 2019