The winter solstice, like all the feasts, is first and foremost an occasion to observe (and celebrate) the turning of the year. Psychologically, the winter solstice is an important milestone for me because it signals the beginning (although far away) return of the sun’s light and warmth. Here in the northernmost part of the Midwest, days will continue to be very short for the next two months. But at least I know that, astronomically speaking, the darkest times are past.
As a Druid practicing within the Greek culture, there is once again a sense of disconnect between what the majority of ADF members are celebrating and the historical practices of my hearth culture. Most of my fellow pagans are observing a tradition heavily influenced by the Germanic traditions, i.e. Yule or Mother’s Night. And this tends to resonate with me as well, so I don’t make too much of a fuss with regard to what the ancient Greeks did or did not do. Both within the pagan community and popular culture, the Winter Solstice is most often celebrated with general revelry (Saturnalia, Oreibasia), gift-giving, time with family, and a break from work.
To my mind, the feast is really comprised of two parts. The first is of gratitude and recognition of generosity, for what the earth provides in agricultural abundance and mineral wealth (this latter I always associate with the Roman myth of the chthonic god Pluto as provider of subterranean riches), reflected in the act of exchanging gifts. The second significance for me is that of rest, closure, and celebrating the end of the calendar and fiscal years.