Solstice is from the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop) because those ancient observers believed that the Sun stopped and headed in another direction to start the winter solstitium.
It occurs in our calendar near the end of the year, but in ancient Egypt, this solstice marked the start of the new year. They observed the rising of the star Sirius which happen around this time. It coincided with the annual flooding of the Nile River which was important to agriculture.
According to Wikipedia, there are other celebrations on the winter solstice.
- Alban Arthan (Welsh)
- Blue Christmas (Western Christian)
- Brumalia (Ancient Rome)
- Dongzhi Festival (East Asia)
- Sanghamitta Day (Theravada Buddhism)
- Shalako (Zuni)
- Yaldā (Iran)
- Yule in the Northern Hemisphere (Neopagan)
- Ziemassvētki (ancient Latvia)
- Midwinter Day (Antarctica)
Maybe I’ll write about those celebrations in the years to come. One celebration that I feel a bit of an ancestral connection to is the Slavic Korochun. Its origin doesn’t seem to be clear, but modern scholars tend to associate this holiday with ancestor worship. The winter solstice was a day to make fires at cemeteries to keep their loved ones warm. They would hold feasts to honor the dead and keep them fed. They also lit wooden logs at local crossroads. (Crossroads figure in folk magic and mythology – see this earlier post.)
I think setting a fire in a cemetery or burning logs at my local crossroads would be seriously frowned upon by the authorities. Perhaps, just a Viking toast to the solstice tomorrow night?