As the winter solstice approaches, questions about whether or not the day (or, more to the point, the night) should be observed by Gaelic Polytheists. My feeling is: If you wanna.
Personally, I don't think the solstices or equinoxes were ever observed by the pre-Christian Gaels – not to the same degree as the Quarter Days, anyway. It's obvious they were aware of them, as were their Stone Age(s) and Bronze Age not-Gaelic-speaking ancestors; the fact that several ancient monuments are aligned to the solstice or equinox sunrises is evidence enough of that, and indicative of probable religious significance, too. So from that perspective I acknowledge the day as having been important to my ancestors, since I have some Irish and Scottish heritage flowing through my veins. Their wisdom isn't something I like to ignore, you know?
The solstices and equinoxes have also come to be significant in the modern calendar thanks to other influences, too. Granted these are influences from other cultures and some people aren't comfortable with adding those into the mix, but to me, I see the way these days are expressed – in spite of the outside influences – as having been thoroughly Gaelicised. It's a prime example of what syncretism is, and so I don't feel the need to separate it out; it's all part of the continuum and especially here in Scotland it's pretty hard to avoid anyway. Your mileage may vary, of course.
So. If you're interested in looking into solstice traditions, you might want to start with Gaol Naofa's video, which we released on our Youtube channel last year:
The kids are both very keen on lighting candles to put in the window; traditionally it's a custom observed by the daughters of the household, but Tom wants to do it too so they'll both get a candle to light. I think we might have some beeswax sheets left so we might be able to make some, even.
If you're looking for some light (arf) reading then there's the two-part article I've done on Tairis along with a bit in the festival bannocks and caudle section that will be useful, too:
- Yule/Hogmanay Part One
- Yule/Hogmanay Part Two
- Festival Bannocks and Caudle
- Celebrating Yule – Grian-stad a' gheamhraidh
For the morning of the solstice the focus is usually on the sunrise at Newgrange. The sunrise has been webcast in previous years but it doesn't seem it will be this year; you can take a look at some photos over at knowth.com, though, and there are videos there too.
If you'd like to greet the sun as it rises, you might find this prayer useful. It's not necessarily only for the winter solstice, but on the morning after the sun is certainly a welcome sight when you know the days are going to be getting longer and longer from here on out.