Forget Christmas, British Columbia witches like James Butler are getting ready to celebrate the winter solstice, with familiar rituals that honour the increasinglight of the sun.

"The day's going to get a little bit longer, there's a bit more sunlight, so feasting and celebrating with people and sharing what you have is a big part of it," Butler said during an interview in Victoria.

This year, the solstice falls late on Dec. 21 or early on Dec. 22, depending on where in the world it is being celebrated.

Shops catering to pagan customers have been busy selling items which are familiar to any Christian, including candles, incense, and scents like frankincense and myrhh.

The similarities between Christmas and solstice arewidely attributedto the fact thatboth festivals are really a celebration of life.

In religious terms, Christmas marks thebirth of Jesus Christ, the son of God, said Sue McCaskill, who teachers a Wiccan solstice class in Victoria.

"For us, it's the return of the sun," she said, referring to the fact that solstice is a celebration of the end of winter, leading to a fertile spring.

Pagans likeButler may be busy stocking up for the solstice, but they never forget the real reason behind the holiday — family, friends and honouring the power of the sun.

"We get together and recognize thatit's a time of joy, despite the crappy weather,'' he said.