Friday, December 19, 2014

Winter Solstice (Have a Cro-Magnon Christmas)

What is the most enduring symbol of the Holiday Season? 
  1. A Christmas Tree? 
  2. A Menorah? 
  3. A Yule log? 
  4. A Nativity? 
  5. A big Visa bill come January?
None of the above. The oldest and most widespread symbol of Winters festivities is the candle. The lighting of a small fire on the night of your holiday goes back beyond any of these holidays.

Before the Celts, before the Christ, before Saturnalia, before Judiasm, before Isis mourning Osiris, before Santa with a Coca-Cola in his hand, before December, before the Elder and Birch tree months, before any calendar, before sundials - there was the sundown candle.

The pits are where the full moon was throughout the year.
How old is our awareness of the Solstice? "Prehistoric" doesn’t begin to describe it. The earliest physical evidence of our knowledge of a lunar calendar with Solstice and Equinox is a crude graph on a bone found in a cave near Dordogne, France. This bone is from the Cro-Magnon people of the Middle Paleolithic, about 28,000 years ago.

But the knowledge must go back much farther than that. The reason
Pride of place on the Winter Altar.
Homo Erectus survived at all was because we knew how to accurately seasonally navigate long distances, using celestial navigation and the wheel of the year. ("Yule" is from the Old Norse "Iul", meaning "Wheel".)

The first calendar then was the two Solstices, the first clock the polar constellations. So the night we know now as Yule is at least a million years old.

Fine: What’s the candle for?

I believe that this goes back even further, to our very emergence as a spiritual creature. The Winter Solstice flame was first struck 800,000 years ago with the domestication of fire, but the impetus behind it goes back perhaps two million years to the beginning of the Pleistocene era (where all the porters had looking-glass ties).

Solstice Sundown at Averbury
You may light a candle to herald the emergence of the Oak King from the shadow of the Holly King, but somewhere in the cognitive map (that we all still carry around) you are assuaging our primeval fear that the ever-weakening Winter sun will GO OUT.

Ridiculous? Sure. We know now that wheels are round...........but at some point we did not. Imagine that. You can, because you were there, wondering how you could help relight the Sun.

On the longest night, when we light the menorah, the yule log, the petitionary votive, or switch on the Christmas tree lights and the
Note the clock & the crackling Yule log.
Everything else here is superfluous.
moving Santa with the bottle of soda in his hand, we are soothing the fears of the first humans - a distant echo of whom still resounds within us all.

So hey; cave people: relax. Have a Coke. The days will get longer from here, and the Sun will rise tomorrow.

......Won’t it?

Angus McMahan

Pics from: Custom drawing by Colleen Fischer (Thank you!),, The Oak Court (that's my left arm up there),,


  1. Very well said. We tell this old story (the tale of the longest night and the new born hope) to the children and it all makes sense. Thus we easily dodge questions like: "What's myrrh?"