The Solstice is next week. This is when the day is at its shortest. The night is at its longest. There is a post in the middle of the inner courtyard at White Horse Castle that records the shadow and where it falls through the year. It is very short in the summer and very long in the winter. On Solstice it doesn’t appear at all because even if the sun is out, it doesn’t go above the castle roof so the post stays in shadow all day.
It is a tradition to keep the post company on Solstice day. I know this sounds funny because it’s just a post, but you never know whether objects have feelings, you know. I have been contemplating it. We put a wreath of holly and ivy round the post at daybreak on Solstice morning. Then at noon everyone crowds into the inner courtyard and the King makes a speech about Solstice and days getting longer and what we achieved in the year that is finishing and what we aim to do in the one that is just starting. Then we have a feast and a party in the outside courtyard. I find parties a little stressful and sometimes I go and talk to the books in the Library.
The next few days are mostly quiet, especially when everyone goes out to watch the races on the Cursus. There is the Solstice Cup on the first day, then a few days later there is the Green Willow Cup on the last day. They don’t race every day, just four times. Something else happens on the days in between. There is a party in the market place on one day, and a children’s party in the outer courtyard on another. There is a Narrathon that takes place every race day evening in the Library. I like those. Our resident Narrator leads and invites one or two others to take part each evening. It’s a great honour to take part.
On Green Willow Day we all assemble outside the Castle gates after breakfast and go up the hill to the White Horse that is carved in it. We start at one foot and walk all the way round it, picking out bits of grass or wildflowers that are growing in the chalk so that it stays in good shape and nice and clean. We finish by walking the rest of the way round the castle to go back in the gates from the opposite direction. There is a hot drink in the courtyard for us and we have another speech from the King, where we recite the poem “I belong to White Horse” which is very nice. Everyone says it together, sort of chanting it.
Then in the evening there is a party, with food and music and dancing until it is midnight when we all cheer and tell each other our plans for the new year. Some people kiss each other. I kissed my friends last year, which was a little embarrassing, but it seemed to be the right thing to do.
And that is Yuletide at White Horse Castle.