That is to say, it’s the shortest day, or — as my mum used to say — the longest night.
And whatever your religious persuasion, or none, there’s something special about it.
It marks the very deepest, darkest moment of winter — that’s the bleak bit.
But it means from now on, the days gradually start to lengthen again. The ever turning wheel of the year has shifted, and we’re on our way back to the warmth and light. Yippee!
However, for a few days, each side of the Solstice, to the naked eye, the sun appears to rise and set in the same places — hence the name, from the Latin sol “sun” + sisto “to stand still.”
Of course, we know today that the reason why the sun grows weaker and the days shorten after the Summer Solstice is because the Earth goes round the sun, spinning on its axis, which is on an angle.
But for most of human history (and prehistory) most humans thought it was the sun doing the moving, rising in the East, setting in the West.
As the Winter Solstice approached, they thought the sun was dying; the Sostice marked the point when the sun was reborn, to strengthen and grow until it reached the peak of its power at the Summer Soltice.
No wonder this period is marked with numerous festivals, frequently of light.
Chief among them in the pagan Roman Empire was Sol Invictus — “The Unconquered Sun” — whose birthday was celebrated on December 25.
It is no coincidence that it shares December 25 with Christmas, only celebrated on that date since the fifth century.
December 25 is the first date after the Solstice when the sun stops seeming to “stand still” and the day is discernibly a little longer.
The word “Christmas” actually dates only to the twelfth century. Prior to that, the festivities which took over Sol Invictus were called Yule (the earliest Old English form known is geohol), almost certainly the name of the Germanic pagan festival celebrated at this time.
The ultimate source of the word “yule” is uncertain, but it is either cognate with, or derived from the Norse jól and is, most likely, connected with “jolly,” though there is a bit of a chicken and egg situation about which came first.
The original Norse festival of Jól was celebrated between the 20th and 31st December.
Yule and Yuletide are still used generally as an alternative name for Christmas, as they have for centuries, but it is the preferred name for the season by most Pagans of all persuasions, who usually use it now for the Solstice, rather than December 25.
Druids, however, will often call the Solstice Alban Arthan, which was first recorded by Iolo Morganwg.
So, what names for a Winter Solstice baby?
- Aglaia — Greek aglaios “splendor”; one of the Graces
- Alban — Welsh “solstice”; identical to the name of the saint, and quite probably sharing the same roots in the Common Celtic *albiyo- “upper world” and “white.”
- Amaterasu — Japanese 天 “heaven,” “sky” and 照 “shine”; the name of the Japanese Goddess of the sun
- Amber — one ancient belief was that amber was the solidified light of the setting sun on the sea.
- Anwu — Igbo “sun”
- Apollo — God of the sun
- Arevik — Armenian name meaning “sun-like”
- Arthan — An Old Welsh word meaning “winter”, connected by Iolo Morganwg with arth “bear.”
- Arthur — Druids see Arthur as symbolic of the sun and equate him with the winter solstice.
- Arun, Aruna — In Hindu mythology, Aruna is the charioteer of the sun.
- Aten — Egyptian “disc of the sun”; the name of an Egyptian God, considered an aspect of Ra.
- Aurinko — Finnish “sun”
- Bay — one of the herbs traditionally added to a seasonal mulled wine
- Cam — the Romani word for “sun” (and “to love”)
- Cardamon — a spice added to mulled wines in the Middle Ages
- Cerah — Malaysian “sunny” and “bright”
- Chrysogon — Greek khrusogonos “gold-born”; Grisegond is an old variant
- Citrine — used since the eighteenth century as the name of a type of yellow topaz; it is believed to radiate the energy of the sun
- Clove — one of the most important ingredients of a mulled wine
- Cressida — derives ultimately from the Greek mythological Chryseis, meaning “(daughter) of Chryses” — a male Greek name from khrusos “gold.”
- Diell — Albanian “sun”
- Eguzki — Basque “sun”
- Enya — in the Native American language of Papai, enya means “sun.” The Irish Enya originated as the Anglicized form of Eithne used by the Irish singer-songwriter Enya; Eithne is an old form of Áine, the name of an Irish Goddess, whose name means “heat” and “light”.
- Frankincense — an ancient resin, used as an incense since ancient times, and used for purification in Pagan temples. It is considered to be ruled by the Sun even today, and the Ancient Egyptians used it particularly in the worship of the sun God Ra.
- Geola — Old English form of YULE
- Gold — associated with the sun since ancient times
- Grian — an Irish Goddess of the sun, whose name means “sun”
- Günay — Turkish girl’s name combining güneş “sun” + ay “moon”; Aygün is a variant
- Haru – Japanese boy’s name: 陽 “sun,” “sunlight”; Haruki, another boy’s name, combines it with 輝 “radiance, shine” or 生 “life,” while the girl’s name Haruko combines it with 子 “child.”
- Heliodorus, Heliodora — Greek “gift of the sun”
- Heliostásio — Modern Greek “solstice”
- Helius — Greek God of the sun; his name means “sun”
- Heuldro — Welsh “solstice”
- Heulwen — Welsh haul “sun” + (g)wen “white,” “blessed” and “pure”; used since the late nineteenth century
- Hina – Japanese girl’s name: 陽 “sun,” “sunlight” or 日 “sun,” “day” + 菜 “vegetables”
- Honey — associated with the sun since ancient times
- Iolo — although unrelated, Iolo (with its feminine form Iola) has a very similar ring to YULE…
- Jólnir — a byname of Odin. Old Norse: jól “YULE”
- Jolie — French jolie, feminie of joli “pretty,” derives from, or shares the same origin, as the Old Norse jól “YULE”
- Jolly — sharing the same origin as JOLIE, if you find this too light, why not consider the “long-form” Jolyon, a form of Julian, deriving ultimately from Julius? Although, like Iolo, not related to Yule, the similarities are there…
- Jua — Swahili “sun”
- Kem — Romani “sun”; a variant of CAM
- Khurshid — Old Persian “shining sun”; the name of an angel in Zoroastrianism associated with the sun
- Lucy — English form of Lucia, the feminine of LUCIUS. St Lucy’s day was celebrated in many parts of Europe last week on the thirteenth; until the switch over from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, St Lucy’s used to fall on or around the Solstice.
- Lux — Latin “light”
- Maeve — Usual modern form of the Irish name Medb, which derives from the Common Celtic for MEAD (cognate with mead itself)
- Matahari — Indonesian “sun” (from mata “eye” + hari “day”)
- Mead — a beverage made from HONEY, dating back to ancient times; probably the unofficial official Pagan drink, especially for the Solstices; it shares honey’s associations with the sun.
- Midwinter — a word used of the Solstice since Angl0-Saxon times
- Mithras — the Greco-Roman God of the mystery religion of Mithraism, popular with Roman soldiers. His worship arrived from the East in the first century; he is identified with Sol Invictus, and his birthday was also celebrated on December 25.
- Mull — “mulled wine,” from the verb “to mull” meaning “to warm.” The Island of Mull gets its name from a Gaelic word meaning “bare,” also quite appropriate for the season, since all is bare (the cognate Welsh word is used of bare, “bald” hills).
- Myrene — an Amazon in Greek myth; Greek: murinês “sweet wine.”
- Myristica — botanical name for NUTMEG, meaning “fragrant”
- Naran — Mongolian name meaning “sun”
- Natalia – from the Latin natale “bitth”; these days, associated with the birth of Jesus, but is just as appropriately applied to the rebirth of the Sun, as celebrated at Sol Invictus; Natalie and Nathalie are the popular French forms, and Natasha, the Russian pet-form.
- Noel — Anglo-Norman noel “Christmas” from Latin natale — see NATALIA
- Nutmeg — another spice often added to a mulled wine
- Orange — oranges, being round and, well, orange, are often associated with the sun
- Oriana — coined by Elizabethan poets in honor of Queen Elizabeth I, from Latin orior “to rise,” used specifically of the rising sun.
- Orinda — another poetic invention coinage from orior (see Oriana above), this time of the seventeenth century.
- Orun — Yoruba: òrùn “sun”
- Phaëthon — Greek “shining”; the name of a son of Helius, famous for almost crashing the chariot of the sun
- Phanes — a primeval Greek God, associated with MITHRAS; his name derives from the Greek phainô “to bring light.”
- Phoebus — Greek: phoibos “bright” and “radiant”; epithet of Apollo
- Ra — the Egyptian God of the Sun, whose name means “sun”
- Ramesses — The name of a famous Pharaoh, meaning “RA/the sun bore him.”
- Ravi — Sanskrit “sun”
- Renaissance – French “rebirth”; generally used since the nineteenth century of the cultural “rebirth” at the end of the Middle Ages, its basic meaning is simply “rebirth” and could be used as a name with reference to the rebirth of the sun at the Winter Solstice
- René, Renée — French forms of RENATUS
- Renatus, Renata – Latin “reborn”; used of the rebirth of the sun
- Rì — Chinese 日 “sun,” “day”
- Samson – Hebrew: “child/man of SHAMASH”; Sampson is a common variant
- Saulė — Lithuanian Goddess of the sun, whose name means “sun”; Saulenė is a variant
- Shamash — major Assyrian God; his name means “sun” in Akkadian
- Shams — Arabic “sun”
- Shemshi — Swahili “sun”
- Sherry — rolled out across the land at this time of year, particularly to leave out for Santa…
- Soare — Romanian “sun”
- Sol — Latin “sun”; Norse Sól meaing “sun” is the name of the Norse Goddess of the Sun
- Solaris — Latin “of the sun”
- Soleil — French “sun”
- Solifer, Solifera — Latin “sun-bearing”
- Soligena — Latin “sun-born”
- Solveig — Old Norse sól “sun” + veig “strength”
- Sonne — German “sun”
- Sorin — Romanian name, usually derived from SOARE
- Sorina — feminine of SORIN
- Sounia — epithet of Athena, from Sounion in Attica, which may, possibly, derive from the Proto-Indo-European root *su(w)en- “sun”; Latinized as Sunia
- Sulien — Old Welsh name, probably meaning “sun-born”
- Sunčana — Croatian name from sunče “sun”
- Sunday — could be interpreted as referring to the Solstices as well as the day of the week
- Sunna — Goddesss of the sun in Germanic tradition.
- Sunniva — Old English: Sunngifu “sun-given”
- Surya — Sanskrit “sun”; the Hindu God of the sun
- Svarog — Slavic God of the sun; Slavic: svar “bright”
- Tesni — Welsh name deriving from tes “sunshine” and “warmth”
- Wassail — originally a salutation used when passing a cup to a guest; from the Old English wes hāl “be in good health”; in time it came to be used of the drink too, especially the spiced ale drunk during the twelve days of Christmas
- Wine — another popular beverage of the season, especially mulled
- Yáng — Chinese 陽 “sun,” “positive”
- Youko — Japenese girl’s name: 陽 “sun” + 子 “child”
- Yule — of course. Also the fab variant Yul. Yule was actually used as a given name in medieval times (with a feminine form Yula), surviving for some time on the Isle of Man in the form Jole.
With Yule and Sol Invictus to celebrate, I’ll be back at the Nook when the mead’s worn off…
A bright and blessed Solstice, Yule, Alban Arthan and Christmas one and all.