Vespers for these times… The Winter Solstice


Hark the Vesper bell is pealing,

O’er the meadow soft and green.

Nearer now and nearer stealing,

Soft it breaks upon my ear.

Jubilate, jubilate, jubilate, Amen. Jubilate, jubilate, jublilate, Amen.


“The sun is not lost, it rises again.  The sun lives in me until then.”

Light a Candle and Sing:  If you are in a group, have the group learn the song and sing in a round.  

Rise up, oh flame, by the light shining.

Show to us beauty, vision and joy.  


First Words: Today we mark the winter solstice.  For those in the northern hemisphere, this is the day when the earth tilts farthest from our star, the sun.  Here, it is the darkest day of the year.  Around the world, those in the north begin the dark days, but we creative folk know how to warm the dark, how to bring the light into our lives, and….how to celebrate the quiet of the dark even as the light begins to return.

A Winter Poem: White Eyes, by Mary Oliver  

In winter

   all the singing is in

      the tops of the trees

          where the wind-bird

with its white eyes

   shoves and pushes

      among the branches.

         Like any of us

he wants to go to sleep,

   but he’s restless–

     he has an idea,

         and slowly it unfolds

from under his beating wings

   as long as he stays awake.

      But his big, round music, after all,

         is too breathy to last.

So it’s over.

    in the pine-crown

      he makes his nest,

          he’s done all he can.

I don’t know the name of this bird,

   I only imagine his glittering beak

       tucked in a white wing

          while the clouds—

which he has summoned

     from the north—

        which he has taught 

           to be mild, and silent—

thicken, and begin to fall

     into the world below

       like stars, or the feathers

          of some unimaginable bird

that loves us,

    that is asleep now, and silent—

        that has turned itself

            into snow.

Sing: Good King Wenceslas

written in 1853 by Englishman John Mason Neale.  Wenceslas did exist, though not as a King, but most importantly, he did believe in bringing light into the lives of those he met and knew, even, or especially,  in the dark months.

Good King Wensceslas looked out, on the feast of Steven,

When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.

Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel.

When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

Hither page, and stand by me, 

If thou knowst it telling.

Yonder peasant, who is he, where and what his dwelling?

Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,

Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes fountain.

Bring me flesh and bring me wine.

Bring me pine logs hither.

Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.

Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together,

Through the rude wind’s wild lament, and the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger.

Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer.”

“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread thou in them boldly.

Thou shalt find the winter’s rage, freeze they blood less coldly”.

In his master’s step he trod, where the snow lay dented.

Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.

Therefore, people all, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,

Ye who now doth bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

Solstice Matching: See if you can match the following winter rituals with the country in which they are practiced.  Place the letter of each ritual next to the corresponding country, place or tradition. Answers in order from left to right at the end of Vespers!  You will notice that there are two mentioned from Camp Betsey Cox!  Things we do at the Solstice celebration in years when we can celebrate together!

A.  People light one candle per day for eight days                                                                 

B. People tie red ribbons around sticks to represent the difficult things the year ending and green ribbons round sticks to represent all the good about to occur in the next year. Throw the red sticks into a fire! Keep the green one nearby all year

C.  People make and light Advent windows in their homes and shops and open one each day in December.

D. In honor of their help in World War 2, every year this country gives an evergreen tree to England.  The tree is placed in Trafalger Square in London.

E.  Gifts are delivered by Father Frost and his grand-daughter, Snow Maiden.

F. Some people in this country believe that the Northern Lights are caused by the forces of darkness and light waging war in the sky.           

G. Real and model Ships are decorated with lights that burn all night                                                                                        

H. People put a Yule log on the fire to bring them good luck.

I. Pomegranate seeds are served to remind people that spring will return (Hades and Persephone story!)

J. In this country, Tomten guard farm animals and protect farms if they are well cared for, especially   with a bowl of porridge placed in the barn at Christmas time.                                                           

K.  A woman dressed in gold and white opens festive Markets.

____ Greece ____Sweden ____ Camp Betsey Cox _____ Russia ____ Switzerland ____ Norway

____ Finland____ Germany ____ Jewish Tradition ____Camp Betsey Cox ____ France

Chant Together; To Know the Dark, by Wendell Berry 

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.

To know the dark, go dark.  Go without sight,

and find that the dark, too,

blooms and sings,  and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

A Story; Cold Paws, Warm Heart, by Madeleine Floyd.  

A story about bringing light to dark, cold places, people and animals alike.

Far away , in the land of snow and ice, lived a large polar bear who was always cold and all alone.  His name was Cold Paws.

When he was young, Cold Paws tried to play with the other animals, but he was too big for their games and no one wanted to play with him.

That’s when he started to feel cold inside.  Poor Cold Paws, he was very lonely.  He sat alone and shivered.

Time passed slowly for Cold Paws.  The only thing that kept him company was a silver flute, which he played each day to forget his troubles.

In the land of snow and ice there also lived a little girl named Hannah.  The people in her village said that no one lived across the snowy plains except Cold Paws, a bear so huge and so cold that if you touched him, you would turn to ice.

But one day as Hannah was walking through the forest, she heard some beautiful music.  She felt as if the gentle notes were stroking her ears.  That night as she closed her eyes, all Hannah could think of was the beautiful music.  She knew she would have to follow it.

The next day Hannah took the same path through the snow.  It led her out of the great forest, across the snowy plains, and right up to a large iceberg.  Again she heard the magical music drawing her closer.  

Hannah crept toward the iceberg and peered around the corner.  Right there in front of her was a huge polar bear with a soft, gentle smile.  He was playing a silver flute.  Hannah could not believe her eyes.  She crouched down out of sight and listened until the air fell silent around her.

‘Brrrrrrrrrrr’, the polar bear shivered.  His whole body shook, and the snow beneath Hannah’s boots trembled.

Hannah knew how miserable it was to feel very cold, so without thinking, she took off her scarf, stepped forward, and placed it right in front of the big polar bear.  Hannah held her breath.

Very slowly the polar bear picked up the red woolly scarf and tied it under his big furry chin.  He nodded his large heavy head.  Hannah smiled.

That night as the stars lit up the sky, Cold Paws thought how lonely his life had become.  He pulled the red scarf closer around his neck, but he still felt cold inside.  ‘Brrrrrrrrrrr’, he shivered.

Back in the village, on the other side of the forest, Hannah lay in her warm bed and thought and thought about the cold polar bear.

The next day, Hannah ran back through the forest, across the snowy plains, and up to the iceberg.  ‘I have an idea.  Let’s do some jumping jacks to warm you up,’ she said.  

Cold Paws looked confused and rubbed his ears.  Something about the little girl made him feel better, so he lifted his heavy legs and did his best to jump up and down.  Hannah laughed and Cold Paws smiled.  ‘I have another idea’, said Hannah,, and she ran off toward the village.

As Cold Paws waited for Hannah to return, the sunlight faded and the snow fell steadily through the silence.  He blew on his polar bear paws.  Cold Paws had never had such a special day, but he still felt a little cold inside.  ‘Brrrrrrrrrr’, he shivered.

When Hannah came back, she held out a steaming mug of hot chocolate.  ‘This is for you’, she said.  Cold Paws took the mug in his soft paws and smelled the sweet drink.  He took a large gulp and licked the chocolate off his nose.  He had never tasted anything so delicious, and now he felt only a tiny bit cold inside.

‘I have to go home now’, said Hannah.  ‘I don’t know how to warm you up, but I”ll be back to play with you every day.’  Hannah gave Cold Paws a big hug, and as she did so, a wonderful thing happened.  The cold thing inside Cold Paws disappeared and instead he felt a warm glow all over.  Now that he had a friend, Cold Paws didn’t feel cold anymore.

Sing: The Holly and the Ivy , traditional British Folksong

The Holly and the Ivy,

When they are both full grown..

Of all the trees that are in the wood,

The holly bears the crown.

Oh, the rising of the sun

And the running of the deer,

The playing of the merry organ,

Sweet singing in the choir.

Poem: A Winter Solstice Prayer, by Edward Hays

The dark shadow of space leans over us…

We are mindful that the darkness of 

greed, exploitation, and hatred

also lengthens its shadow over our small

Planet Earth.

As our ancestors feared death and evil

and all the dark powers of winter,

we fear that the darkness of war, discrimination, and selfishness

may doom us and our planet to an eternal


May we find hope in the lights we have

kindled on this sacred night, 

hope in one another and in all who form

the web-work of peace and justice

that spans the world.

In the heart of every person on this Earth

burns the spark of luminous goodness;

in no heart is there total darkness.

May we who have celebrated this winter


by our lives and service, by our prayers

and love,

call forth from one another the light and

the love

that is hidden in every heart.

Read Together:

The Shortest Day

So the shortest day came, 

     and the year died,

and everywhere down the centuries

     of the snow-white world

came people singing, dancing,

     to drive the dark away.

They lighted candles in the winter trees:

they hung their homes with evergreen;

they burned beseeching fires all night long

      to keep the year alive.

And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake,

       they shouted, reveling.

Through all the frosty ages you can hear them

       echoing, behind us–listen!

All the long echoes sing the same delight.

       This shortest day.

As promise wakens in the sleeping land:

       they carol, feast, give thanks,

and dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.

        And so do we, here, now.

        This year and every year.


by Susan Cooper

Sing: Deck the Halls, traditional Welsh Christmas Carol

Deck the Halls with boughs of holly,

Fa la la la la la la.

Tis the season to be jolly,

Fa la la la la la la.

Don we now our gay apparel

Fa la la la la la la la la

Troll the ancient yule-tide carol,

Fa la la la la  la la la la.

See the blazing Yule before us,

Fa la la la la la la la la.

Strike the harp and join the chorus,

Fa la la la la la la la la.

Follow me in merry measure,

Fa la la la la la la la la.

While I tell of Yuletide treasure,

Fa la la la la la la la la.

Fast away the old year passes,

Fa la la la la la la la la

Hail the new, ye lads and lasses,

Fa la la la la la la la la.

Sing we joyous, all together

Fa la la la la la la la la

Heedless of the wind and weather

Fa la la la la la la la la.

Final Words: Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Vermont poet, Robert Frost


Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

he will not see me stopping here

to watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

to stop without a farmhouse near

between the woods and frozen lake

the darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

to ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep 

of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, 

but I have promises to keep, 

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.



Jubilate, jubilate, jubilate, amen.  Jubilate, jubilate, jubilate, amen.


Answers to the matching above:    G, J, B, E, C, D, F, K, A, I, H








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