If you have not been to Orkney, then you logically have not visited Maeshowe, and you may not know that this chambered cairn, built around 2700 B.C. is designed so that the last rays of the setting sun on winter solstice shine in through the entry way, and light up the interior of the cairn. (And you probably have not seen the cool runic graffiti, from the time of the Orkneyinga Saga, when some Vikings sought refuge in the tomb--writing things like "Ingigerth is the most beautiful of all women" and "Thorni fucked; Helgi carved"--but that's another story.)
Solstice means "standing still sun." Here, today, we get about 10 hours of sunlight, from 7:35 a.m. to 5:25 p.m., which feels short enough. In Orkney at midwinter they get only six hours, and not the strongest sun either.
Many linguists believe that our word "Yule" comes from Scandinavian origins, referring to the festival around the winter solstice. I can well imagine that in northern climes the urge for the sun to get its ass back over here would be powerful. Traveling in Scotland (the same summer I went to Orkney), I stayed at a bed and breakfast on the Isle of Skye, and the owner was very clear that it is Prozac and Prozac alone that got him through the Scottish winters.
But even here it is good to remember that the light is coming back, even if we have to beat on drums (literal or figurative) to remind it we are here.
I learned recently of the Icelandic tradition of the Yule Cat (or Jólaköttur), who eats lazy people. Jóhannes úr Kötlum wrote a poem about this cat, and here is a part of it:
He roamed at large, hungry and evil
In the freezing Yule snow.
In every home
People shuddered at his name.
If one heard a pitiful "meow"
Something evil would happen soon.
Everybody knew he hunted men
But didn't care for mice.
He picked on the very poor
That no new garments got
For Yule - who toiled
And lived in dire need.
From them he took in one fell swoop
Their whole Yule dinner
Always eating it himself
If he possibly could.
You can help the little poor children not get eaten by the Yule cat by giving them something new and warm to wear, so that the kitty won't assume they are lazy. Ultimately the Yule Cat is a lesson about working hard and also thinking about your community.
I'd like to think that Mina has just gone out to serve as the Yule Cat. She is a vicious beast, and I know she has always looked with disdain at lazy people (and especially at lazy cats), so it would not surprise me a bit.
In the meantime, Come on back, Sun! And happy solstice to all of you in Blogland.