Winter Solstice: the Holly King vs The Oak King

Stair na hÉireann/History of Ireland

‘Things have to get worse before they can get better.’

With each passing day of autumn we lose daylight. However, as the Winter Solstice arrives, the shortest day arrives, and we gain more daylight going forward. Ancient people, who spent more time outdoors, were acutely aware of this annual ebb and flow of daylight, the two poles of which are the Winter Solstice and its summer counterpart. For the Celts, what we know as Christmas holly trees had a place in their rituals marking these two poles, each of which indicate when the sun is at its greatest distance from the equator.

In Celtic mythology the Oak King and the Holly King were twins, pitted against each other in a never-ending fight for supremacy. Oak Tress, sacred to the Celts, lose their leaves, while the Christmas holly trees are evergreen. As cold weather approached, the Celts marveled at how the…

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