An Ancient Celebration
The Winter Solstice, celebrated in the modern day on December 21 or 22, has been a day of celebration and reverence for thousands of years. The sun appears to stand completely still, and there is less sunlight this day than on any other throughout the year. Ancient civilizations across the globe saw this day as one of great endings and beginnings, and was one of several major astrological events that led to the creation of ancient temples and sites that still stand to this day.
Astrology Vs Meteorology
Whether you consider Winter Solstice the official start to winter or not will depend on which spectrum of science you hang your calendar. Astrologists and almanacs consider it the beginning, but meteorologists have usually unpacked their turtlenecks by then. This is because where the earth is positioned in the sky does not accurately unveil the seasons from a temperature standpoint. The beginning of December marks the beginning of wintry temperatures, so to a meteorologist this is the more realistic start to the season.
How the World Celebrates
Winter Solstice has influenced every culture in the world, and its influence has resulted in many unique forms of celebration.
Yalda Night – The Iranian celebration, Yalda Night, considers this day to be a victory of light over darkness, adopted from the ancient Persian belief that the day is the birthday for the sun god, Mithra. It is customary to stay up all night to welcome the first light (sunrise) of the new season.
Soyal – The Hopi, Pueblo, and Zuni tribes welcome the spirits of the mountains during Soyal. The Kachinas, as these spirits are called, offer protection, hope, fertility, and other good things. This is a celebration of purification and thanks.
Dongzhi – This festival, celebrated in China, Dongzhi, symbolizes the end of harvest season and the “arrival of winter”. This three-day (December 21-23) holiday pays tribute to the year behind while looking forward to the year ahead.
Saturnalia – The God of Saturn was traditionally depicted as bound by his feet in statue, but during this Roman festival he was set free along with all slaves and moral law breakers. This week long celebration was a time where anything goes, and all would be forgiven.
Inti Raymi – This ancient celebration of the Incas began as a way to honor the sun god with feasts and sacrifices. The celebration was celebrated in June (their winter) but was later banned by the Conquistadors. Today, the holiday has been revived with many of the old traditions, including ‘mock’ sacrifices.
Joloblot/Thorrablot – Besides having a wide assortment of menu items, like sheep’s head, cured shark, and testicles, this sacrificial Iceland celebration is about paying it forward to the Viking weather spirit, Thorri. Late-night festivities also include storytelling and dancing.
Lohri – The Punjab religion in South Asia calls their Winter (harvest) Solstice, Lohri. The significant name behind much of the festivities is Dulha Batti, a Muslim robber who worked much like Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and distributing his booty to the poor and helpless.
Pongal – Thailand may not officially recognize this four-day holiday as ‘mandatory’ for all schools and banks, but they still give the days off for everyone to enjoy. The word Pongal comes from the tradition of boiling as much rice, lentils, milk, jaggery, and nuts as it takes to “pongal” (spill) them out of their pot. This action is said to bring prosperity for the new year.
Lantern Walk – Nova Scotia residents keep it simple by welcoming winter with handmade lanterns and a leisurely stroll.
Newgrange – Over 5,000 years ago, Irish architects built a passage tomb that would offer the dark stone interior a brilliant golden glow one day out of every year. On December 21, a lottery is drawn for the hundreds of people who travel to the site to witness the phenomenon. The lucky winners get to go inside the burial chamber, which is said to be a magnificent experience whether the sun makes an appearance or not.
Mayan city of Tulum – Within the ancient Mayan city of Tulum, stands an assortment of stone structures that appear much the same on any other day, except for the Winter and Summer Solstice. As the sun rises on December 21, the sun catches a hole in the roof of one of the lone buildings, cascading a starburst effect across its walls.
Stonehenge – Despite the fact that nobody has ever been able to explain why this massive stone monument was actually built, Stonehenge is the place to be on the morning of every December 22 calendar date. With your back to the entrance, the sun slowly rises until it (hopefully) makes its yearly appearance in the center of the stone circle.
A New Start (Death, Pacing, and Resurrection)
Following Winter Solstice, the sun will return the next day, staying longer by one minute each day. This has been symbolized as the death of the old and resurrection of the new sun. Some cultures would punish the darkness during Winter Solstice by burning and symbolically dragging it through the streets so that the sun could be reborn into freedom the next day.
But let’s not ignore Saturn’s position during Winter Solstice, which is welcoming the sun into its ruling constellation of Capricorn. This is a time to look forward to spring but settle into the reality that we’ve got a number of long nights ahead until the sun overcomes darkness and nudges the early spring flowers from their slumber. So, pace yourself, many Astrologers would say, and remember to conserve energy (and heat) for the long nights ahead. Within the death and rebirth of every Winter Solstice is the opportunity to take advantage of some pacing, and yes, planning too.
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