Friday, 21 December 2007

Winter Solstice

Tonight brings the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere .
Solstice means "standing still sun."
Such precision we have about it now! Winter solstice is when...
...because of the earth's tilt, your hemisphere is leaning farthest away from the sun, and therefore:
The daylight is the shortest.
The sun has its lowest arc in the sky.
No one's really sure how long ago humans recognized the winter solstice and began heralding it as a turning point -- the day that marks the return of the sun. One delightful little book written in 1948, 4,000 Years of Christmas, puts its theory right up in the title. The Mesopotamians were first, it claims, with a 12-day festival of renewal, designed to help the god Marduk tame the monsters of chaos for one more year.
It's a charming theory. But who knows how accurate it is? Cultural anthropology has advanced a lot in the last 50 years!
Many, many cultures the world over perform solstice ceremonies. At their root: an ancient fear that the failing light would never return unless humans intervened with anxious vigil or antic celebration.
An utterly astounding array of ancient cultures built their greatest architectures -- tombs, temples, cairns and sacred observatories -- so that they aligned with the solstices and equinoxes. Many of us know that Stonehenge is a perfect marker of both solstices.
Winter solstice was overlaid with Christmas, and the observance of Christmas spread throughout the globe. Along the way, we lost some of the deep connection of our celebrations to a fundamental seasonal, hemispheric event. Many people--of many beliefs--are looking to regain that connection now.
Winter solstice celebrations aren't just an invention of the ancient Europeans. Native Americans had winter solstice rites.
In Iran, there is the observance of Yalda, in which families kept vigil through the night and fires burned brightly to help the sun (and Goodness) battle darkness (thought evil).
Winter solstice celebrations are also part of the cultural heritage of Pakistan and Tibet. And in China, even though the calendar is based on the moon, the day of winter solstice is called Dong Zhi, "The Arrival of Winter." The cold of winter made an excellent excuse for a feast, so that's how the Chinese observed it, with Ju Dong, "doing the winter."
And what of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights that occurs around this time every year? Is it related to other celebrations of the season?
The form of this celebration, a Festival of Lights (with candles at the heart of the ritual), makes Hanukkah wonderfully compatible with other celebrations at this time of year. As a symbolic celebration of growing light and as a commemoration of spiritual rebirth, it also seems closely related to other observances.
There is a whole series of medieval English carols on the subject of the rivalry between the holly and the ivy. In many of them, the holly and ivy symbolized male and female, and the songs narrated their often rowdy vying for mastery in the forest or in the house.
And the next time you find yourself in a store, getting annoyed at incessant repetitions of "the Carol of the Bells," consider this: it's a remnant of the pre-Christian winter solstice celebration in the Ukraine. The Ukrainian carol called "Shchedryk" has the same melody as the Carol of the Bells, but different English words. The word "Shchedryk" means the "Generous One". It refers to the god of generosity, the Dazh Boh - the Giver God, which is the sun
In many cultures, customs practiced at Christmas go back to pre-Christian times. Many involve divination--foretelling the future at a magic time: the season turning of solstice.
And in many, many cultures, it's considered bad luck for a fire or a candle to go out on Christmas Day. So keep those candles burning!


  1. this was a long post, but interesting to read (:

    I had no idea about this. Thanks for the information ;)

  2. I take the seasons as they have been coming at me for billions of years in my omnipresent form.

    But in this lifetime in this body I most like summers and sun.

    We have been getting a lot of rain here, but that is okay, water is the one thing that allows life on this planet so that the spirit can be here in human form.

    I'm thankful that this post wasn't about fashion (not that I read it all) because that bothers spirit. Hugs

  3. Hi!

    Thank you for checking out my blog and leaving a comment :]
    I've enjoyed yours as well. At the top you mention English is not your native language, can I ask what is? From reading your posts I would never guess!
    I really like the "Today's Outfit" bits, thats a very cute and creative idea.
    So thanks again! Stop by anytime!


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