Celebrating Winter Solistice ~ Stonehedge

 

Celebrating Winter Solstice

The December solstice is when the sun reaches its southernmost point for the year. This year, it happens at 11:12 Universal Time on December 21. Here, in the mainland United States, the solstice falls on December 21 at 6:12 a.m. EST, 5:12 a.m. CST, 4:12 a.m. MST and 3:12 a.m. PST. Translate to your time zone here.

 

by Selena Fox

Winter Solstice has been celebrated in cultures the world over for thousands of years. This start of the solar year is a celebration of Light and the rebirth of the Sun. In old Europe, it was known as Yule, from the Norse, Jul, meaning wheel.

Today, many people in Western-based cultures refer to this holiday as “Christmas.” Yet a look into its origins of Christmas reveals its Pagan roots. Emperor Aurelian established December 25 as the birthday of the “Invincible Sun” in the third century as part of the Roman Winter Solstice celebrations. Shortly thereafter, in 273, the Christian church selected this day to represent the birthday of Jesus, and by 336, this Roman solar feast day was Christianized. January 6, celebrated as Epiphany in Christendom and linked with the visit of the Magi, was originally an Egyptian date for the Winter Solstice.

Most of the customs, lore, symbols, and rituals associated with “Christmas” actually are linked to Winter Solstice celebrations of ancient Pagan cultures. While Christian mythology is interwoven with contemporary observances of this holiday time, its Pagan nature is still strong and apparent. Pagans today can readily re-Paganize Christmastime and the secular New Year by giving a Pagan spiritual focus to existing holiday customs and by creating new traditions that draw on ancient ways. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Celebrate Yule with a series of rituals, feasts, and other activities. In most ancient cultures, the celebration lasted more than a day. The ancient Roman Saturnalia festival sometimes went on for a week. Have Winter Solstice Eve and Day be the central focus for your household, and conceptualize other holiday festivities, including New Year’s office parties and Christmas visits with Christian relatives, as part of your Solstice celebration. By adopting this perspective, Pagan parents can help their children develop an understanding of the multicultural and interfaith aspects of this holiday time and view “Christmas” as just another form of Solstice. Have gift exchanges and feasts over the course of several days and nights as was done of old. Party hearty on New Year’s Eve not just to welcome in the new calendar year, but also to welcome the new solar year.

 

  • Adorn the home with sacred herbs and colors. Decorate your home in Druidic holiday colors red, green, and white. Place holly, ivy, evergreen boughs, and pine cones around your home, especially in areas where socializing takes place. Hang a sprig of mistletoe above a major threshold and leave it there until next Yule as a charm for good luck throughout the year. Have family/household members join together to make or purchase an evergreen wreath. Include holiday herbs in it and then place it on your front door to symbolize the continuity of life and the wheel of the year. If you choose to have a living or a harvested evergreen tree as part of your holiday decorations, call it a Solstice tree and decorate it with Pagan symbols.

 

  • Convey love to family, friends, and associates. At the heart of Saturnalia was the custom of family and friends feasting together and exchanging presents. Continue this custom by visiting, entertaining, giving gifts, and sending greetings by mail and/or phone. Consider those who are and/or have been important in your life and share appreciation.

 

  • Reclaim Santa Claus as a Pagan Godform. Today’s Santa is a folk figure with multicultural roots. He embodies characteristics of Saturn (Roman agricultural god), Cronos (Greek god, also known as Father Time), the Holly King (Celtic god of the dying year), Father Ice/Grandfather Frost (Russian winter god), Thor (Norse sky god who rides the sky in a chariot drawn by goats), Odin/Wotan (Scandinavian/Teutonic All-Father who rides the sky on an eight-legged horse), Frey (Norse fertility god), and the Tomte (a Norse Land Spirit known for giving gifts to children at this time of year). Santa’s reindeer can be viewed as forms of Herne, the Celtic Horned God. Decorate your home with Santa images that reflect His Pagan heritage.

 

  • Honor the Goddess as Great Mother. Place Pagan Mother Goddess images around your home. You may also want to include one with a Sun child, such as Isis with Horus. Pagan Goddess forms traditionally linked with this time of year include Tonantzin (Native Mexican corn mother), Holda (Teutonic earth goddess of good fortune), Bona Dea (Roman women’s goddess of abundance and prophecy), Ops (Roman goddess of plenty), Au Set/Isis (Egyptian/multicultural All Goddess whose worship continued in Christian times under the name Mary), Lucina/St. Lucy (Roman/Swedish goddess/saint of light), and Befana (Italian Witch who gives gifts to children at this season).

 

  • Honor the new solar year with light. Do a Solstice Eve ritual in which you meditate in darkness and then welcome the birth of the sun by lighting candles and singing chants and Pagan carols. If you have a indoor fireplace or an outdoor fire circle, burn an oak log as a Yule log and save a bit to start next year’s fire. Decorate the inside and/or outside of your home with electric colored lights. Because of the popularity of five pointed stars as holiday symbols, this is a good time to display a pentagram of blue or white lights.

 

  • Contribute to the manifestation of more wellness on Planet Earth. Donate food and clothing to poor in your area. Volunteer time at a social service agency. Put up bird feeders and keep them filled throughout the winter to supplement the diets of wild birds. Donate funds and items to non-profit groups, such as Pagan/Wiccan churches and environmental organizations. Meditate for world peace. Work magic for a healthier planet. Make a pledge to do some form of good works in the new solar year.
For us in the northern hemisphere, the December solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of 2012. After the winter solstice, the days will get longer. Celebration time!

Late dawn. Early sunset. Short day. Long night. For us in the northern hemisphere, the December solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year.

If you live in this hemisphere, it’s your signal to celebrate. The shortest day is here! After the winter solstice, the days will get longer, and the nights shorter. It’s a seasonal shift that nearly everyone notices.

When is the solstice where I live?

The solstice happens at the same instant for all of us, everywhere on Earth. But our clocks say different times.

The December solstice is when the sun reaches its southernmost point for the year. This year, it happens at 11:12 Universal Time on December 21. Here, in the mainland United States, the solstice falls on December 21 at 6:12 a.m. EST, 5:12 a.m. CST, 4:12 a.m. MST and 3:12 a.m. PST. Translate to your time zone here.
What is a solstice?

The earliest humans knew that the sun’s path across the sky, the length of daylight, and the location of the sunrise and sunset all shifted in a regular way throughout the year. They built monuments, such as Stonehenge, to follow the sun’s yearly progress.

Stonehenge marks winter solstice sunset GALLERY

But we today see the solstice differently. We can picture it from the vantage point of space. Today, we know that the solstice is an astronomical event, caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis, and its motion in orbit around the sun.

Because Earth doesn’t orbit upright, but is instead tilted on its axis by 23-and-a-half degrees, Earth’s northern and southern hemispheres trade places in receiving the sun’s light and warmth most directly. That’s what causes winter and summer.

At the December solstice, Earth is positioned in its orbit so that the sun stays 23-and-a-half degrees below the north pole horizon. As seen from 23-and-a-half degrees south of the equator, at the imaginary line encircling the globe known as the Tropic of Capricorn, the sun shines directly overhead at noon. This is as far south as the sun ever gets. All locations south of the equator have day lengths greater than 12 hours at the December solstice. Meanwhile, all locations north of the equator have day lengths less than 12 hours.

Where should I look to see signs of the solstice in nature?

Everywhere.

For all of Earth’s creatures, nothing is so fundamental as the length of daylight. After all, the sun is the ultimate source of all light and warmth on Earth.

If you live in the northern hemisphere, you can notice the late dawns and early sunsets, and the low arc of the sun across the sky each day. You might notice how low the sun appears in the sky at local noon. And be sure to look at your noontime shadow. Around the time of the December solstice, it’s your longest noontime shadow of the year.

Many people have an unfavorable response to this time of short days and long nights. Some people try special lighting. Others take vacations to more southerly latitudes.

Why doesn’t the earliest sunset come on the shortest day?

The December solstice marks the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and longest day in the southern hemisphere. But the earliest sunset – or earliest sunrise if you’re south of the equator – seems to defy logic when it happens before the solstice.

How does this happen?

The key to understanding it is not to focus on the time of sunset or sunrise. The key is to focus on what is called true solar noon – the time of day that the sun reaches its highest point, in its journey across your sky.

In early December, true solar noon comes nearly 10 minutes earlier by the clock than it does at the solstice around December 21. With true noon coming later on the solstice, so will the sunrise and sunset times.

Earliest sunsets are not at winter solstice

It’s this discrepancy between clock time and sun time that causes the earliest sunset and the earliest sunrise to precede the December solstice.

The discrepancy occurs primarily because of the tilt of the Earth’s axis. A secondary but another contributing factor to this discrepancy between clock noon and sun noon comes from the Earth’s elliptical – oblong – orbit around the sun. The Earth’s orbit is not a perfect circle, and when we’re closest to the sun, our world moves fastest in orbit. Our closest point to the sun – or perihelion – comes in early January. So we are moving fastest in orbit around now, slightly faster than our average speed of 18 miles per second.

The precise date of the earliest sunset depends on your latitude. At mid northern latitudes, it comes in early December each year. At northern temperate latitudes farther north – such as in Canada and Alaska – the year’s earliest sunset comes around mid-December. Close to the Arctic Circle, the earliest sunset and the December solstice occur on or near the same day.

By the way, the latest sunrise doesn’t come on the solstice either. From mid-northern latitudes, the latest sunrise comes in early January.

The exact dates vary, but the sequence is always the same: earliest sunset in early December, shortest day on the solstice around December 21, latest sunrise in early January.

And so the cycle continues.

Southernmost sun brings December 21 solstice

The image at the top of this post is called Solstice Pyrotechnics II. It’s by groovehouse.

Bottom line: The 2012 December solstice takes place on Friday, The Solstice moment, 11:11 AM GMT, December 21, 2012, end of the Mayan Long Count Calendar Cycle. Happy solstice!

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