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The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas Paperback – 10 Mar 2003

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Paperback, 10 Mar 2003
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Product details

  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Godsfield Press Ltd; New edition edition (10 Mar. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841811238
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841811239
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 25.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,979,976 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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From the Back Cover

'The Winter Solstice' gives new meaning not just to Christmas, but to the whole winter season. Folklore expert John Matthews traces the history behind many of the sacred traditions of the holiday season and provides refreshing and practical suggestions for celebrating the Winter Solstice as a joyous, life-affirming, spiritual festival.

• Delight in the surprising multicultural origins of Santa Claus, the Yule Log, mistletoe, and the Christmas evergreen.
• Revive old traditions and discover new ones through lively descriptions of the revels of Old Europe and the solstice ceremonials of traditional peoples of many lands.

It is just before sunrise on a cold December day some three thousand years before the coming of Christ. For those crouched at the heart of the mound, it must seem as though light has been banished forever. The, suddenly, a tiny sliver of sunlight strikes the stone slab at the back of the chamber. Slowly it widens, climbs upward, illuminating a number of mysterious carvings – circles and spirals, zigzag patterns. For the people crouched in the centre of the great mound of 'Brug na Boine' (also known as New Grange) every symbol has meaning. But by far the greatest significance is the return of the sun itself. The light that enters the dark womb of the earth brings with it the promise of the warmth and light to come.

JOHN MATTHEWS was born in the North of England. He is an internationally renowned authority on the Arthurian and Grail traditions, with a special interest in the lore of the Celtic peoples. A professional writer since 1980, he has produced nearly thirty books on these subjects, as well as numerous short stories and a volume of poetry.

His best-known and most widely read works are 'The Grail: Quest for Eternal Life', 'At the Table of the Grail', 'Taliesin: Shamanism and the Bardic Mysteries in Britain and Ireland', 'Within the Hollow Hills', and 'Healing the Wounded King'. He is currently working on a new edition of the great medieval classic, 'Le Mort D'Arthur', and a book on the Celtic saints.

He has also co-authored, with his wife Caitlin Matthews, a pioneering two-volume study of the Western Mystery Tradition, 'The Western Way' (now reprinted as a single volume) which has revolutionised contemporary approaches to the ancient British mysteries and their offshoots. Together they designed and wrote the bestselling 'Arthurian Tarot' and compiled 'The Arthurian Book of Days'.

John and Caitlin Matthews give frequent workshops and courses on Arthurian and Celtic traditions in the United States and Europe. They also produce a quarterly newsletter. They live in Great Britain.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. PJ Taylor VINE VOICE on 10 July 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ever since I was a child I was confused about the mish-mash of stories about Christmas. What has the old man in the red suit got to do with the baby Jesus, presents, trees etc?

Eventually I managed to sort in my head the old pagan traditions from the Christian overdubs, but this book is a wonderful account of the origins and backgrounds to the older forms of worship of these islands.

John Matthews obviously loves his subject and researches it thoroughly and Caitlin Matthews' illustrations are wonderful. Read this with the companion volume: The Quest For The Green Man and your life will be enriched immeasurably.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A shining example of how not to write a book. I can (almost) forgive that it's full of unsubstantiated, and often clearly spurious, 'history' of the type so beloved by amateur enthusiasts. What I can't allow is that it is so poorly and illogically ordered, flitting from topic to topic without any apparent rhyme or reason. The contents may as well not exist for all the sense it makes. Worse, the prose is execrable, meandering and unfocussed with lashings of self-indulgence - it reads like listening to a stoned, drug casualty talking about their theories on the cosmos. And just when you think it can't get any worse, he includes 'poetry' that doesn't even qualify as doggerel. I was tempted to give some examples of the many failings of this book, but why waste any more of my life? Simply, I don't know how this made it into publication, it is the worst book I have ever purchased. Which is a shame, as there are very few books that cover what is a fascinating topic. But I'd recommend the Christmas chapters of "The English Year" as being a thousand times more valuable than this rambling, self-indulgent rubbish.
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By Pain on 28 Feb. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a must for the end of the year festivities, regardless of your religion. It not only compares traditions of the celebrations of light from pagan times onwards, but offers explanations of the symbolism of all that we take for granted in what goes to make the season jolly. Recipes, crafts, ideas for all!
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By ripply on 28 Oct. 2014
Format: Hardcover
This gives so much detail about the history of the solstice celebrations, from all over the world. It goes much further back in time than most books on the subject. It would be interesting to anyone who likes history, not just those wanting to learn about christmas.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 36 reviews
89 of 90 people found the following review helpful
extensively rich and historical review of winter customs 7 Feb. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful text full of history and thought, and beautiful illustrations. The author extensively explores the origins of numerous Christmas traditions,e.g., lights, evergreens, yule logs, etc. by tracing these customs to the occurance and celebration of the winter solstice, and in later history, to many Roman celebrations. The text adds greater richness, understanding, and appreciation to many Christmas traditions. The author also offers suggestions for celebrating the winter solstice as the important celestial event that it is.
54 of 56 people found the following review helpful
Great book! 19 Jan. 2003
By merrymousies - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Very complete with history and lore as well as activites. Two thumbs up on this one. Great pictures too. Information is presented in a very straight-forward way. I love this book - made for a much more meaningful christmas for me this year. The table of contents has:
1) The Solstice Dream (this chapter talks to Solstice celebrations and lore across the world and across the ages - from egypt to china to Rome. Poetry and prose from other sources are included.) All chapters end with celebration activites
2) Child of Wonder (this chapter talks to the birth of different gods across the ages - such as apollo, mabon, jesus)
3) The Green Bough (this chapter talks to the symbolism of the tree, the use of evergreens versus cherry tree etc. Green man is also discussed)
4) Old Sir Christmas (this chapter talks to the jolly old elf as well as the Shaman in the Tree and others across the cultures)
5) The Solstice Animals (this is about the slaughter of animals - 'nough said there - go vegetarian!)
6) The 12 days of Christmas
At the end of the book is a few pages on additional resources/references which is pretty good.
Great book! Most complete I've found and I like how it looks across cultures.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
A gathering of winter traditions from many sources 6 Feb. 2005
By Barbara W. Klaser - Published on
Format: Paperback
Most people who celebrate Christmas know that numerous elements of our modern traditions come from older religions than Christianity, but the range of source traditions astounds me. There is, for instance, no one source of the practice of observing the winter solstice itself, of myths involving the death or sacrifice and rebirth of a deity, or of father and son symbols for the old year and the new. Many sources are cited in the book as possible origins of Santa Claus, of the giving of gifts, and the custom of bringing greenery indoors.

It's not the diversity of customs that fascinates me so much as the variety of myths and stories that impact on an emotional level. When I consider the winter solstice traditions presented here, as a whole, I realize how similar all cultures are in their most basic concerns. The winter solstice was a time of great disquiet to people who lived close to the earth, more than a couple of centuries ago. The shortening of days, scarcity of food, and intense cold of winter carried far deeper implications for those who lived directly off the land and couldn't quickly transport needed goods. It's no surprise some important and deeply meaningful traditions arose from the resulting insecurity about the future.

Whatever the reason behind the timing of Christmas so near the solstice, and whatever your beliefs about it or your reason for reading, you'll find a wealth of information in The Winter Solstice. This impressively researched book even contains ideas for creating celebrations and traditions of your own. It's a fitting tribute to this most ancient holy day. If your celebration centers around the birth of Jesus, never fear. There's a wealth of commentary and research included on traditions specific to Christianity. But an open mind is required to sift through the myth, legend, history, and blending of customs. This is not a book conducive to fundamentalist thinking about religion-any religion, Christian, pagan or otherwise. It's far better suited to those with a penchant for myth and speculation.

A few of the subjects covered in the first chapter are The Returning Sun, Chambers of the Sun and Sun-Rites, with mention of those ancient structures built for the purpose of calculating or demonstrating the sun's return at the turn of the solstice, such as Stonehenge in England, New Grange in Ireland, and Mayan ruins. Zuni houses in North America contained objects and windows designed to catch the rays of the returning sun. Saturnalia, New Year rites, the Celtic Calendar, and the sun gods of Egypt and elsewhere are also mentioned, as well as a fifteen hundred-year-old Jewish commentary on the Babylonian Talmud. This is just a taste, mind you, and only from the first chapter.

The information is presented in short sections, so it's easy to pick up and read a few paragraphs. But these paragraphs will easily draw you in for a longer read. It can be read straight through, or enjoyed as a coffee table book to share with friends, and to stimulate discussion and speculation. It's a must-read, for me, during the December holidays.
46 of 50 people found the following review helpful
Tradition and ritual without faith 15 Nov. 2004
By Alison Hudson - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've always loved Christmas. But a few years ago I deconverted from faith; I found myself, as an atheist and humanist, longing for a connection to the holiday I loved. This book helped me forge a new perspective on, and a new connection with, Christmas as a worldly and human celebration.

Each chapter provides cross-cultural connections to the ideas, customs, and icons of Christmas. Even when Matthews seems to be reaching a bit, it makes for engaging reading, and provides the rest of us with a way to connect with America's (and much of the Western World's) most important holiday season. It's especially engaging to know the origins of certain figures and beliefs; rarely are the origins religious, but cultural and traditional. [My favorite chapter was on the Twelve Days of Christmas.] The presentation of faith-free rituals at the end of each chapter was especially welcome, and I have already incorporated some small, new traditions into my holiday activities.

I recommend it to readers of all faiths or non-faiths. Every open-minded reader can find something of interest. Only literal Fundamentalists will be offended!
41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Great book on Yule 24 Mar. 2002
By Cynthia M. Caton - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I almost didn't buy this book because it had Christmas in the title and I supposed it would not have much in the way of the pagan holiday. I was very wrong. This is the best book I have ever read on the solstice. It tells of celebrating Yule before Christianity abducted it. "The Winter Solstice" has the look of an arty, coffee table book but it is definitely worth the read. It offers a couple of small rituals and some great phrases for ceremonies. It is more of a scholary history than a magickal book. I cannot wait to read it again next December to get me in the Yule spirit!
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