Many people think of the winter solstice as a bad thing – the coming of winter. The winter solstice has long been thought of as a time when the Sun turns from its falling into darkness back into gaining light. It was a time that was celebrated around the world.
Looking to religion and mythology, it is the time when virgin mothers give birth to sacred sons: Rhiannon to Pryderi: Isis to Horus; Demeter to Persephone; Jesus to Mary. In Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses met on the winter and summer solstices.
The word solstice’s roots are in Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). One, some believed that the sun stood still for a day before shifting, but we know now it is just an instant when the Sun’s position in the sky is at its greatest angular distance on the other side of the equatorial plane from the observer’s hemisphere.
It may last only a moment, but we treat the entire day as the solstice and the shift of seasons. The nights’ lengthening, the days shortening, will begin to reverse after this point.
The winter solstice occurs some time between December 21 and December 22 each year in the northern hemisphere (it depends on the shift of the calendar), and between June 20 and June 21 in the southern hemisphere. December 21 or 22 solstices happen more often than December 20 and 23 solstices. The last December 23 solstice was in 1903 and will not happen again until 2303 when I will no longer be blogging. A December 20 solstice has occurred very rarely, with the next one in the year 2080.
It’s a bit confusing, but only because of the way we try to manipulate time to serve our needs. In Paradelle, it will occur on Monday, December 21, 2015 at 11:49 p.m. EST and at 10:48 p.m. CST for central time zone in North America. But using UT (Universal Time), it is on December 22, at 4:48. You can check the time in your neighborhood at timeanddate.com
Depending on the culture or your point of view, you can see today as the shortest day or longest night of the year. Sometimes you will hear someone say that this is the longest day or that the longest days of the year come each year around the December solstice, we mean “day” not as a period of daylight, but as the interval from one midday solar noon to the next.
At the North Pole, this is a day when there is no sunlight, so the lights must be burning full-time at Santa’s workshop.
Druids were once chanting as the solstice dawn approached at Stonehenge. Some modern-day ones continue each solstice remembering neolithic times when astronomical events guided the mating of animals, the sowing of crops, and how people monitored their winter reserves between harvests.
At Stonehenge in Britain and New Grange in Ireland, the primary axes of these monuments are aligned on a sight-line pointing to the solstice sunrise and sunset.
As the declination of the Sun on this (northern) winter solstice (also known as the Tropic of Capricorn) moves into place, you can take notice the way it has been celebrated for at least 30,000 years and as an important time for agrarian cultures the past 10,000 years.
I watch and take note on paper as the Earth travels around the Sun in its orbit of the position of the Sun changing from my family room window over the course of the year. (Sunrise azimuth today = 120°)
Perhaps, rather than being sad (or SAD, as in Seasonal Affective Disorder), you should celebrate on this longest night of the year with evergreens, bright illumination from lights, candles or a nice fire, some feasting with family and loved ones and dancing and singing.