Solstice and Yule: The Grandfathers of Christmas

Everyone knows the story of Christmas, but actually celebrations of this time of year go back thousands of years into the past. Two cultures, the Celts and the Norse each contribute to some of the world’s original festive celebrations at the Christmas time of year.

Two drawings of the Oak king and the Holly king.

The Oak and Holly Kings of the Celts. Image © Anne Stokes 2020.

The Celts celebrated the Midwinter Solstice (and so do the Zuñi and Hopi peoples of America), whereas uniquely the Celts feature the Green King which was even used in the later Medieval Period, despite the greater popularity of Christianity.

It centred around the dawning of the new solstice, when the sun would return from the darkness during Winter and the use of two figures namely the Holly King and the Oak King. These two deities would battle one another, triumphing for six months of the year to rule over the seasons until the next fight (in which the victorious king would then reign). This would be celebrated at Midwinter (and Midsummer) when the respective king for the season was at the peak of their powers and thus claim victory over the other.

The Druids of Britain would use holly as a sacred symbol of life during the dark Winters, and offered it as a blessing (BBC, 2006).

Image of the Norse God Odin riding Sleipnir during the Wild Hunt

The God Odin and Sleipnir during the Wild Hunt.

The Norse would celebrate the Wild Hunt, where the God Odin (or the All-Father) would hunt down trolls and other creatures as he gave gifts to children across settlements during Mid-Winter.

The winters in Northern Europe were dark and foreboding, and so it lent itself to the idea that Odin and his gang would ride across the winds, amid much howling and shrieking of the trolls and other creatures as they were hunted down by the party. Along the way, Odin – similar to and pre-dating Santa Claus – would send little gifts to the children he passed through the villages and towns during the Viking Age.

Odin could be seen riding on the winds, with his horse Sleipnir, the eight-legged child of the God Loki. He was the fastest and strongest horse in the world. Every year when the Midwinter sun came over the lands, it was said to be Odin and his party hunting down trolls and other nasty creatures. On this night in particular, Odin would leave gifts out for the children, and they in turn would leave a small parcel of food for Odin and of course a carrot or bits of hay for the horse Sleipnir.


If you’re browsing the shelves at your library for books on the Celts and the Norse, you can use the Dewey Decimal system to help you find the right book. Dewey Decimal numbers are magical numbers that help us organise which books go where. Here are some useful numbers for this topic:

And here are some of our favourite books in the collection about the Celts and the Norse:

Celts / Newland, Sonya
“Who were the Celts and who were their leaders? Why did they come to the British Isles and how did they live? Explore this ancient civilisation to understand how prehistoric people have influenced the way we live today. Discover the artefacts that give evidence of their way of life, and how historians have pieced together the evidence of their lives. Learn about the homes and communities that they lived in, the food that they ate, how they travelled and worshipped, and the influence of the Romans on their society.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Myths and civilization of the Celts / Martell, Hazel
Myths and Civilization of the Celts focuses on life during the Iron Age period when the Celts dominated much of Europe before the rise of the Roman Empire. The book looks at their way of life, their arts and crafts, trade and transport, religion, food and entertainment. It also includes a map of the Celtic tribes of Europe. Using double-page spreads, Celtic myths are retold & followed by historical & cultural background material.” (Catalogue)

Norse myths and legends / Ganeri, Anita
“The world’s myths are filled with characters, creatures, and stories that have fascinated people for thousands of years. This series mixes dramatic retellings and non-fiction information to give a full picture of a culture’s myths.” (Catalogue)

Illustrated Norse myths / Frith, Alex
“A brand-new collection of Viking myths that tell the story of the Norse gods from creation to the story of how the world will end, including Odin’s quest for wisdom, the battles of Thor the thunder god, and the tale of Sigurd the Dragonslayer and the curs A collection of Viking myths that tell the story of the Norse gods from creation to the story of how the world will end, including Odin’s quest for wisdom, and the battles of Thor the thunder god.” (Catalogue)

Lōemis Winter Solstice Festival 2019

Winter has arrived in Wellington, and the Lōemis Winter Solstice Festival is back again, in it’s forth year,  during the week of the 14th to the 22nd of June, and there’s heaps of exciting events happening in the Capital!
image courtesy of https://www.loemis.nz/What is the Lōemis Winter Solstice Festival?: For seven days, the Lōemis Winter Solstice Festival  observes the longest nights of the year with a hearty mix of feasting, theatre, music, monstrous creatures and a fiery waterfront procession, based around the winter solstice, which falls on 22 June.

For more information on what events are on, check out the Lōemis website and Facebook page.

 

In the mean time, why not get into the “festival” season with:

 


image courtesy of syndeticsFestival folk : an atlas of carnival customs and costumes.

A beautifully illustrated compedium of weird and wonderful festival costumes around the world. All around the world there are festivals that reach back through the sands of time to the very roots of civilisation; to agrarian rites and pagan traditions. The festivals in this book are often little known outside their locale and they are all characterised by the most radical and bizarre costumes imaginable. The Kukeri in Bulgaria wear enormous headpieces made of goatskin. Burryman festival in Edinburgh features a man covered from head to toe with burrs and thorns. Paraders in Switzerland’s Silvesterklausen wear vast wood- en doll-masks and hats carved with peasant scenes. Each costume is brought to life in Rob Flower’s joyous, surrealist, urban illustra- tions. Brief, engaging texts describe the festival, its history and the traditions that surround it.

 


image courtesy of syndeticsFestivals and celebrations.

Take a trip around the world, looking at the many different ways that people celebrate special days, holidays, religious festivals and traditional celebrations. Comparing Countries is a ground breaking non-fiction dual-language series which compares and contrasts ways of life in different countries around the world. Presented in two different languages, each title explores a topic common to all children, from homes to festivals, highlighting what makes us different and what we all have in common. This series provides great support to geography learning, as well as helping young language learners improve their reading skills.

 


image courtesy of syndeticsFestivals around the world.

Learn about the diverse and vibrant festivals that are celebrated around the world.

 

 

 

 


Learn more about what happens in winter, as well the other seasons, why not head on down to your local library and grab some books about seasons, such as:

 

image courtesy of syndeticsSeasons.

Finding out about the four seasons has never been so engaging. This book is full of exciting experiments, fun puzzles, quirky humour and science facts to make you saw WOW … it’s science with a BOOM!

 

 

 


image courtesy of syndeticsWeather and the seasons.

Introduces weather and the seasons, describing what is a cloud, why rainbows form, and how animals migrate for the winter, and includes four weather-related science projects.

 

 

 


image courtesy of syndeticsWeather and seasons : questions & answers.

Have you ever wondered why we have seasons, where the wind comes from or how we predict the weather? Read this book to find out about weather and how our planet changes throughout the year.

 

 

 


image courtesy of sydneticsA stroll through the seasons.

Follow the wonderful changes that each season brings! From bright spring blossoms to dazzling summer sunshine, vibrant autumn leaves, and sparkling winter snow. Look and Wonder is a fresh, bold, and bright narrative nonfiction series introducing children to the natural world

 

 

 


Also, why not join in on “the Lōemis workshop fun”,  in the comfort of your own home… or library by creating your masterpieces, with some help from the following books:

 

image courtesy of syndeticsEasy origami decorations : an augmented reality crafting experience.

Handcrafted decorations are just a few folds away! Learn how to turn origami butterflies, swans, and tulips into locker magnets, table decorations, and more.

 

 

 


Now make this : 24 DIY projects by designers for kids.

25 of the world’s leading designers contribute one object each for kids to make themselves.

 

 

 


image courtesy of syndetics51 things to make with paper plates.

51 things to make with paper plates is perfect for those with a creative, crafty streak eager to put their skills to task on recyclable materials in the home. Perfect activities for parent and child to create together. The 51 projects feature a well-balanced mix of techniques, materials, colours and styles for a range of ages. With the easy-to-follow guidance in this book, you can make: a dragon, a hot-air balloon, a lion mask, a snowman and a barking dog hand puppet.

 

 


image courtesy of syndeticsMasks.

Making masks is easy with these creative projects which are explained with illustrated step-by-step instructions. I love Craft Masks features instructions for making fantastic masks. You could be a fairy, a pirate, a dragon or a cat. You could even make crazy glasses or a carnival mask!

 

 

 


image courtesy of syndeticsAmazing masks to make yourself : 25 projects for funny and frightening faces to wear!

From papier-mache to everyday objects like leaves or even a kitchen sieve, Masks can be made for all sorts of uses, such as going to a costume party, for a school drama production or even just to hang as decorations on a wall.