The winter solstice has historically been more than just the day that winter officially begins. It has been a religious event throughout history. This was particularly true in places where climates meant there were dramatically different seasons.
I have written here over the years about the solstices and there is only so much I can say about the technical aspects of this celestial event.
Solstice derives from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still) because the Sun did seem to pause on that day and then move another way. The days lengthen after this and, after the longest night, the nights shorten.
The winter solstice occurs between December 21 and 22 each year in the northern hemisphere. (In the southern hemisphere, their winter solstice will be between June 20 and 21.)
This is called the shortest day or the longest night of the year. This is the day when there is no sunlight at the North Pole.
The ancients associated seasons with deities. The ancient Greek god of winter is Boreas. The Norse god of winter is Ullr. In Celtic mythology, there is the god Cailleach and the goddess Beira. Since winter could be a brutal and killing season in some places, appeasing the god of winter made sense.
As mythologies gave way to religions with one God, the old gods of winter changed to new personifications of the seasons. These characters, like Old man Winter, were someone to blame for your hardships, and someone to please so that spring would return.
Russia’s Father Frost is very similar to Old Man Winter and In Russian folklore, the character is known as Morozko.
Old Man Winter is a personification of winter that comes from ancient Greek mythology and Old World pagan beliefs that became a modern character in literature and popular culture.
Ancient mythologies had gods for meteorological forces (thunder, lightning), each direction of the wind, and the seasons.
In the Greek myths, the goddess of the harvest, Demeter, had her daughter Persephone kidnapped by Hades, lord of the underworld. It so depressed her, that she became despondent that she could not care for the lands, and winter took over. After a deal was struck with Hades, Persephone was allowed to return to the Earth for six months of the year at which time the lands thrived, but every six months she would return to the underworld and the seasons would change again.
Each direction of the wind was considered a god. Boreas was the Greek god of the north wind and was shown in artwork as an old man who brought winter. In some Celtic traditions, the Oak King is considered a deity of the winter solstice. But he was also seen as a life force. The Oak King battled the Holly King who ruled from the start of summer. The Oak King’s reigned during the darkest time of the year, like the solstice, his coming was hopeful because it marked the gradual lengthening of the days and progression towards spring.
For the Norse mythologies, Ullr was the god of winter and son of a frost giant. When Odin was gone in winter, he ruled Asgard.
There are many holidays that were part of European culture and were able to be preserved within religious beliefs. Father Winter survived as Santa Claus. Evergreen tree worship survives in the Christmas tree tradition. There are still Christmas-time customs that are non-Christian.
Father Winter is an ancient Pagan figure who gave gifts of fruit, plants, and herbs. He wore a cape and delivered his gifts on a white horse.
Winter probably seemed to arrive about a month ago if you live in a northern climate like Paradelle. But now it’s official. If you get the winter blues, perhaps you should think of the winter solstice as it was once viewed – as the turning of the Sun, the lengthening of the days, and the first step on the celestial path to spring. Enjoy the journey.