Celebrating Solstice / Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 21, 2006

Celebrating solstice brings out those who feel its spiritual pull

Article in the Salt Lake Trbune - Dec. 21st, 2006
Celebrating solstice brings out those who feel its spiritual pull

By Sheena McFarland
The Salt Lake Tribune
People around the Salt Lake Valley plan to welcome back the light this evening as they celebrate winter solstice.
Celebrations of the shortest day of the year date back more than 5,000 years to Ireland's Newgrange, a stone structure thought to be used to recognize the solstice. Newgrange is built on a hill, and the building contains a chamber with a window that only allows in light from the sun during the winter solstice.

Tara Sudweeks Willgues, a minister at Church of the Sacred Circle, which promotes earth-based spirituality, said while no one knows how the structure was used, it's apparent it was built for the solstice.

A winter solstice party attracts revelers who gather around a fire Wednesday on the Jordan River near Jordan Park to celebrate the return of the light. The gathering was sponsored by Bend-In-The-River, a non-denominational environmental and conservation group based in Salt Lake City. (Paul Fraughton/The Salt Lake Tribune)

But not having distinctly established traditions doesn't stop her and several other Utahns from gathering each solstice to celebrate the impending return of longer days.
She and Edward Slomka are members of the Sun Stave Circle, and Slomka is in charge of planning this year's celebration. Tonight's activities will include the burning of a decorated Yule log and feature a living tree, which will be given to a participant to be planted in Heber. The Sun Stave Circle is a "nonorganization" that allows members to come and go and volunteer to host pagan events, such as the solstice celebration.

He and Willgues see clear ties between pagan traditions and Christianity's celebration of Christmas. In many ancient cultures, such as the Roman Saturnalia, people brought greenery into their homes and exchanged gifts. Also, the Yule log was a tradition dating back to ancient Nordic cultures to help welcome back the sun.
"We start gaining more daytime again," Slomka said. "By having light and burning the log, it symbolizes the light of hope and it's evolved from there."
Willgues calls the solstice a "fairly major celebration" in paganism, mainly because it has become so deeply ingrained.
"A lot of it has to do with ancient traditions, and now it's all mishmashed into Western cultures," Willgues said.
In addition to burning a Yule log, Slomka will offer an activity for people to make pinecone bird feeders, another show of respect for nature.
"You don't have to be member of anything to come to our group," Willgues said. "We welcome anyone who is curious about earth-based spirituality or wants to celebrate the solstice."

7-year-old Musa Traore looks at the stars through John R. Peterson's telescope. Solstice celebrations go back for centuries. In Utah, groups mark the holiday in their own way. (Paul Fraughton/The Salt Lake Tribune)