Faith & Worship Faith & Worship

The Celtic Year

Praying through the Celtic year - Winter Solstice

winter solstice


What is the Winter Solstice?

The winter solstice occurs exactly when the Earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun at its maximum of 23° 26'. Though the winter solstice lasts only an instant in time, the term is also colloquially used as midwinter or contrastingly the first day of winter to refer to the day on which it occurs. More evident to those in high latitudes, this occurs on the shortest day, and longest night, and the sun's daily maximum position in the sky is the lowest. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days. Depending on the shift of the Gregorian calendar, the winter solstice occurs on December 21 or 22 each year in the Northern Hemisphere, and June 20 or 21 in the Southern Hemisphere. (source Wikipedia)

Cultural Significance

In pre-historic times, winter was a very difficult time for people in the northern latitudes. The growing season had ended and the tribe had to live off of stored food and whatever animals they could catch. The people would be troubled as the life-giving sun sank lower in the sky each noon. They feared that it would eventually disappear and leave them in permanent darkness and extreme cold. After the winter solstice, they would have reason to celebrate as they saw the sun rising and strengthening once more. Although many months of cold weather remained before spring, they took heart that the return of the warm season was inevitable. The concept of birth and or death/rebirth became associated with the winter solstice. (Source

Astronomical events, which during ancient times controlled the mating of animals, sowing of crops and metering of winter reserves between harvests, show how various cultural mythologies and traditions have arisen. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites such as Stonehenge in Britain and Newgrange in Ireland. The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise (New Grange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). (Source Wikipedia)

The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.

It was also the Druids who began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.

Many of these customs are still followed today. They have been incorporated into the Christian and secular celebrations of Christmas.

The Christianizing of Winter Solstice

Pope Julius I chose December 25th as the date to celebrate Jesus’ birth to "Christianize" the many pagan festivals and merrymaking that occurred during this time of year. Why did Christianity become involved with the festivities during the winter solstice period? Most probably as an attempt to divert the attention from the "partying" and merrymaking to a more Christian tone. The rebirth of life that was celebrated by the pagans was converted to a symbolism of Christ’s birth. The turning point to longer days at the winter solstice where more light would come became the hope that was induced by the birth of Jesus Christ. (Source

Bearing in mind the pagan origins of this festival, are there elements that Christians can embrace? I think the answer is 'Yes'. Stripping it down to the essentials we have the themes of 'darkness and light' and 're-birth', of the reliance on a force outside our control for provision of food and warmth, and hope for the springtime to come. That's enough to be going on with!


celtic preayers A Christian Liturgy for the Winter Solstice

(Place a small table at the centre of the group, and upon it place a small candle or tea light for each person present, a few fallen leaves and a some seeds)

How do we approach the season of Winter? Do we mourn the passing of Summer's warmth and Autumn's golden glow? Do we live in fear of shortened days, long nights and the cold of the coming days?

Or does the Winter remind us of the wonderful rhythm of God's creation? Seeds sown in Spring have grown, fruited and provided for our needs. Trees that provided shelter for wildlife have now shed their leaves which in due course will rot down and provide nutrients for the coming year. Plants in our gardens which have seemingly died lie dormant within the ground, ready to emerge and bring us joy in the Spring to come.

The countryside sleeps in Winter, and within it lies all the potential of Spring, Summer and Autumn!

Together we say

You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created and have their being

This is the God we serve,
A God of love, of healing and power.
All: Alleluia
This is the God we serve,
A God who loves us with a Father's love.
All: Alleluia
This is the God we serve,
A God who laughs as we laugh,
All: Alleluia
This is the God we serve,
A God who suffers as we suffer.
All: Alleluia
This is the God we serve,
A God who brings light into dark places.
All: Alleluia
This is the God we serve,
A God who brings warmth into hearts that are chilled.
All: Alleluia
This is the God we serve,
A God who sees within us the potential of Spring.
All: Alleluia

'Where man sees but withered leaves,
God sees sweet flowers growing.'
(Albert Laighton)


Here a song, chant or hymn might be sung


There is a winter in all of our lives,
a chill and darkness that makes us yearn
for days that have gone
or put our hope in days yet to be.

Father God, you created seasons for a purpose.
Spring is full of expectation
buds breaking
frosts abating and an awakening
of creation before the first days of summer.

Now the sun gives warmth
and comfort to our lives
reviving aching joints
bringing colour, new life
and crops to fruiting.

Autumn gives nature space
to lean back, relax and enjoy the fruits of its labour
mellow colours in sky and landscape
as the earth prepares to rest.

Then winter, cold and bare as nature takes stock
rests, unwinds, sleeps until the time is right.

An endless cycle
and yet a perfect model.
We need a winter in our lives.
A time of rest, a time to stand still.
A time to reacquaint ourselves
with the faith in which we live and breathe.
It is only then that we can draw strength
from the one in whom we are rooted,
take time to grow and rise through the darkness
into the warm glow of your springtime,
to blossom and flourish,
bring colour and vitality into this world,
your garden.

Thank you Father
for the seasons of our lives


"Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle ... a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream."
( Barbara Winkler)


(The candles, if present can be lit at this time)

We are called to be a a light, a candle to bring the illumination of God's Truth and Word into lives that have yet to know the One who created all things. God's light brings not only light but the warmth of His love wherever it touches.

Let us spend a moment or two looking at these symbols. The leaves which once were green now withered, fallen to the ground. They are still a part of God's plan, containing within them food for new growth. The seed, seemingly without life and yet within it holding the potential for great beauty or fruitfulness. The flickering light which illuminates even within the darkest day.


With all of our strengths and weaknesses
Hopes and fears
We come to you now
Our Creator God.
Fill us
All: Renew us

Take us
All: Use us

As your lights in a world of darkness,
empowered through your Spirit
All: Your Spirit of love

Your Spirit of peace
All: Your Spirit of hope

In a world that lives but has yet to experience life in all its fullness.
In a world that loves, but has yet to meet with the source of all love.
In a world that forever seeks, but stumbles in its searching.

Here a song, chant or hymn might be sung

And as we think of those leaves, and the passing of Winter through to the hope of a Springtime when life will emerge from the frozen earth, we remember that we also are a part of that cycle of death and rebirth, that the seeds we sow in this life will fall to the ground with the potential to grow and be fruitful.


As a part of nature's wondrous cycle
Of new birth, growth, fruitfulness and death
We rejoice in the creation of new life,
For parenthood, the passing on of knowledge,
For understanding and the wisdom of years.
We are grateful for those who have gone before
Passing on to us our spiritual heritage.
May our lives blossom as the apple tree in Spring
May we become fruitful in thought and deed
And may the seed of love that falls to the ground
Linger beyond our time on this earth.

God of Winter, Springtime
Summer and Autumn,
God of Light
God of Warmth
God of Love
God of Potential
God of Hope
Who in the darkest days
Enters our lives
As you entered this world
Bringing Love
Healing and Wholeness
All: We praise your glorious name!




Back to Praying through the Celtic Year

Faith & Worship

Faith and Worship

©John Birch · Prayers written by the author may be copied freely for worship. If reproduced elsewhere please acknowledge author/website
Privacy Policy · Links · Author · Donate