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Project Britain
Folklore Calendar
stories, sayings, customs
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A month by month of forgotten legends and pastimes from Britain's folk history
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Facts about December Month
Sayings, Customs and Traditions


All year round The Winter Solstice (1st day of winter)

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice marks the first day of the season of winter. It falls on or near 21 December.

The Pagan celebration of Winter Solstice (also known as Yule) is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world. It is a celebration of the shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, when the North Pole is at its furthest point away from the sun (the sun is at its southernmost point in the sky).

Winter Solstice Traditions

mistletoeMistletoe and the mighty Oak

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 (pictured right) was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.

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 (known as the Yule log) was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.

Yule logs are traditionally lit on the first day of the Solstice and are burned throughout the Solstice night for 12 hours as a symbol of hope and belief that the sun will return.

Marking the Solstices - Midwinter alignments

Many ancient sites, such as stone circles in Britain and Ireland, align themselves with the sun on the shortest day.

Long Meg, the tallest stone in the Maughanby stone circle, Cumbria, aligns with the setting sun on the winter solstice.

image: Long Meg
Long Meg

The last rays of the setting sun shine passes down a passage from the entrance to the inside wall at Maeshowe tomb in mainland Orkney (Scotland).

imag: Maeshowe, Orkney

Below is the sunset 20th December 2007

Maeshowe tomb

The Maeshowe cams, go live on 1 December. Images will appear from 09:00 to 16:00 GMT each day (outside camera) and 14:00 to 16:00 GMT (inside cameras) If the inside images are dark there is no light in Maeshowe.

Back to December

Read about the Solstices (winter and summer)

Jan | Feb | Mar | Apr | May | Jun | Jul | Aug | Sept | Oct | Nov | Dec

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