During the winter solstice, the path of the sun starts turning towards the north after reaching the southernmost position. The word solstice actually means that the sun is standing still. For those in the northern hemisphere, this is the longest night of the year and the shortest day. In the southern hemisphere it is the shortest night of the year and the longest day. For most of us, the solstice marks the changing of the seasons.
The winter solstice is celebrated by many societies around the world. It marks the official beginning of winter and a festival is often held to commemorate the last harvest. Celebrations usually reflect on looking into a cold winter and hoping for a warm future. Though celebrated in different ways and with different names in various countries and cultures, these festivals are a bonding of hope and warmth, when families come together and give symbol gifts and indulge in feasting. This corresponds with the ebbing of the sun.
In Iran, it is celebrated as the Shab-e-Yaldaa and as Rohatsu by Buddhists. North India celebrates it as Lodhi and in Scandinavia; it is celebrated as the Beiwe festival. East Asia celebrates the winter solstice as the Dongzhi festival and in Mali it is the Goru. It was known as the Yule (Yule-time anyone?) in Europe in earlier years courtesy of early Germanic tribes. Christmas itself was actually selected to be on December 25th by early Christians (Romans) in order to help win over some of the Pagan cultures commemorating the the winter solstice and the Sun God, pretty soon they were celebrating the ‘Son of God’ instead.
The ancient cultures of Egyptians and Babylonians also celebrated the winter solstice and had festivities. The Romans celebrated it as the Saturnalia. It was not limited to just Europe but was also celebrated in the Eastern countries. In Tibet, the solstice was celebrated as Dosmoche. The Japanese celebrated this period as Hari kuyo. It was Native American celebrations that ultimately introduced mistletoe and holly into the Christmas celebrations.
How will you celebrate the solstice? What are you most looking forward to this winter?