Longest night and shortest day,
the Holly King must soon give way,
In battle with the old Oak King,
for whom the Robin comes to sing.
Let Yuletide fires send up their smoke,
call Wren of the Holly and Robin of Oak.
Oak was defeated on Midsummers Night
When to the Holly he lost the fight.
Now his time is come again,
Robin shall defeat the Wren.
As the Holly King bows down
Oak King shall reclaim his crown.
To Robin and Oak we give our praise
for shorter nights and longer days.
- The Wagon Witch 2020
So many traditions surround the Oak and the Robin, the Wren and the Holly. Songs tell of the "Hunting of the Cutty Wren" and the tale of "Who Killed Cock Robin". The Wren Boys would beat the bounds in search of their prize, to see-off the old year and bring in the new. Robin, that favourite symbol of Winter and frequent visitor to our gardens, brings a splash of blazing colour on the cold, dull days. (He may also join us as we Wassail our orchards on 12th night, to ward off bad spirits and bless us with good fruit in the coming year.)
At Midsummer the Holly King and the Wren defeated the Oak King and the Robin. Now Oak and Robin return to do battle and reclaim the crown, bringing the return of the light, which grows stronger each day until the cycle returns to Midsummer.
As with the Old Ones before me, I do not have the use of electricity or gas in my wagon home. Like them I have only the daylight hours to complete all the tasks that must be done, working mostly outside; fetching water, sawing and chopping wood, preparing a meal etc. All must be achieved before sunset if possible, before the long night sets in. You will therefore understand why I, like the ancestors, celebrate the return of the light with such fervour.
Deck the halls with boughs of Holly, feast and celebrate, share gifts with loved ones, just as the Old Ones did before us. I shall hang my Yule wreath of holly and ivy on my door, plant my acorns and cut a Yule log. I shall share a good meal and a warming tot of mead with a loved one on Solstice Night. I shall ponder what may become and what must be done in the coming year, whilst sitting by the Yule fire.
The turn of the seasons, the return of the light. I am sure I'm not alone in looking forward to the Winter Solstice and the end of a difficult year.
Though it is called the Midwinter Solstice, in the UK it usually heralds the start of the colder months of Winter. As yet we have seen few frosts, mostly rain, but my prediction is that we shall see harsher winter weather in the new year. I base this theory on my observations in nature. In the Autumn we saw an abundance of wild fruits, nuts and huge acorns, millions of them. This fore-warns me that Mother Nature is over-providing for her wild ones - giving them extra provisions for harder times.
We shall see if my predictions ring true.....watch this space! I shall be gathering extra fire wood and storing some long-life foods, just in case I am right. If I am wrong, no matter, I will have provisions aplenty to last me a while and so, hopefully, shall the wild ones of the wood.
Meanwhile, the Cailleach, Queen of Winter, rules over us. Folklore states that, if the weather be fine on 1st February (Imbolc) it may be a warning of wetter, colder times yet to come. It means that the Cailleach is up and about, gathering more firewood for her stores, in preparation. But if the weather be cold and wet it means the Cailleach has stayed in her bed, letting things lie, until the time comes to pass the crown to Brigidhe (Bride, Bridget), Queen of Summer on 1st May (Beltane).
Yuletide Blessings to you.
May you know health and happiness in the coming year.