Ancient lore and legends of the Winter Solstice

By MPP Toby Barrett

This season is a time of tradition. While we all celebrate tradition in many different ways, the ties that bind us together include family, friends, sharing and kindness.

Long before Santa charioted his flying steeds across the skies, legend tells of female reindeer that drew the sleigh of the Sun Goddess of the Winter Solstice. At time of writing we have now past the longest night of the year.

It wasn’t until the pagan traditions of winter were Christianized that the white bearded man of St. Nicholas/Kris Kringle/Father Christmas/Santa Claus was introduced and the Sun Goddess, or Deer Mother, forgotten.

If we turn back time to the early Neolithic Stone Age, the earth was much colder and reindeer more widespread. The reindeer doe was admired and revered by the ancient peoples of the north. She was the ‘life-giving mother’, the leader of the caribou spring migration upon which they depended for milk, food, clothing and shelter – essentially for survival.

From the British Isles, Scandinavia, Russia, Siberia, across the land bridge of the Bering Strait, the reindeer was a spiritual figure associated with fertility, motherhood, regeneration and the rebirth of the sun — the theme of Winter Solstice as it remains known today.

Rarely portrayed on land, the reindeer was often portrayed as leaping or flying through the air with neck and legs outstretched with her antlers depicted as the tree of life, carrying birds, the sun, moon and stars. Across the northern world, it was the Deer Mother who took flight from the dark of the old year to bring light and life to the new.

While there are many historical explorations of the pagan origins of the Christmas season and the link to Santa’s costume, few mention the female Shamans who originally wore red and white costumes trimmed with fur, horned headdresses or felt red hats. Similarly, the ceremonial clothing worn by medicine women of Siberia and Lapland, was green and white with red peaked hat, curled-toed boots, reindeer mittens, fur lining and trim…look familiar?

While the women of long ago and Solstice past are largely forgotten today, the Deer Mother lives on in our cards, decorations, songs and children’s books of flying reindeer. I believe some deep, primeval part within some of us continues to recognize ‘Mother Christmas’ bringing light and new life to the world – as did the spring migration.

So this Solstice take a moment to remember the forgotten winter goddesses and magical reindeer of the distant past. Look out from your warm cozy home into the cold of the darkening eve. Look for the Deer Mother traversing starry skies.

No matter how old and wise we get, the varied stories of Christmas never tire and the magic of the season never fades. May you share and enjoy the spirit of the season with friends, neighbours and those you love.

The keeping of these traditions is one of the many special features of the season that bring us together in the spirit of joy and giving. My family, staff and I hope you enjoy your own distinctive holiday tradition that make this season special for you.

All the best as the days continue to lengthen in the coming year.


Toby Barrett is the MPP or Haldimand-Norfolk