In the Northern Hemisphere, the day of the Winter Solstice occurs every year between December 20th and December 23rd. This year it falls tomorrow, December 21st. It will be the shortest day of the year, with the least amount of daylight and the longest night, due to the North Pole being tilted the farthest away from the Sun. Consequently, folks in the Southern Hemisphere will be experiencing the opposite: their longest day and shortest night.
For many cultures around the world, the Winter Solstice holds a great deal of spiritual power. In Pagan times, this day was referred to as Yule and was a celebration of the Goddess (Moon) energy. It was believed that on this day, the Moon would give birth to the Sun. Ancient Egyptians felt there was a divine connection between the Winter Solstice and creation itself. As such, they built the Karnak Temple Complex, which allows for a spectacular alignment at sunrise on the Winter Solstice.
Similarly, temples in Ireland that existed thousands of years before the birth of Jesus were constructed in such a manner that during the Winter Solstice, the sunrise lines up perfectly with a crucifix built into the inner chamber. In fact, Jesus himself was born during this time of the year. Saturnalia was a week-long ancient Roman festival in honor of the god Saturn, which was held during the time of the Winter Solstice. Romans would halt all work in order to sing, feast, socialize and give gifts. Wax taper candles called cerei were common gifts to signify light returning after the solstice.
Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument located in England, is also carefully aligned for both the Summer and Winter Solstices. Archaeologists believe it was constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC, and it is thought that the Winter Solstice was more significant because this was a time when cattle were slaughtered so they didn’t need to be fed during these months and the majority of wine and beer was finally fermented.
For some, performing a ritual during this time can be cathartic. Many common solstice rituals include candlelight to get through the extra darkness of the day. Fire ceremonies are also compelling customs. Since we’re closing out 2019, you can write all the things you want to release in the new year on pieces of paper and let them burn in order to loosen their hold on you.
Whatever meaning you give the Winter Solstice, one can’t help but feel some kind of mystical pull from the increasing cold and darkness – like needing to burrow inward for a quieter time of self-reflection and meditation in order to be reborn in some form in the Spring. So, on that note…we wish you a safe (and warm!) solstice, friends!
P.S. Do you have any celebration traditions? Let us know in the comments!