It feels like the days just can’t get any shorter, and it’s true. Today we celebrate the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.
December Solstice (Winter Solstice) arrived at 3:44 am in Denver, today December 21, marking the moment that the sun shines at its most southern point (in case you are counting, the sun is about 91.473 million miles from earth today). This day is 5 hours, 38 minutes shorter than on June Solstice. In most locations north of Equator, the shortest day of the year is around this date. To the delight of many of us, this means that the days will start getting longer, however incrementally.
The Winter Solstice is celebrated in many cultures around the world. It is a major pagan festival with rituals of rebirth having been celebrated for thousands of years. In the northern latitudes, midwinter's day has been an important time for celebration throughout the ages. Nova Scotians celebrate the Winter Solstice as Children's Day to honor their children and to bring warmth, light and cheerfulness into the dark time of the year. In pagan Scandinavia the winter festival was the yule (or juul). Great yule logs were burned, and people drank mead around the bonfires listening to minstrel-poets singing ancient legends. It was believed that the yule log had the magical effect of helping the sun to shine more brightly.
The Romans called it Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. The Roman midwinter holiday, Saturnalia, was both a gigantic fair and a festival of the home. Riotous merry-making took place, and the halls of houses were decked with boughs of laurel and evergreen trees. Lamps were kept burning to ward off the spirits of darkness. Schools were closed, the army rested, and no criminals were executed. Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewelry, and incense. Temples were decorated with evergreens symbolizing life's continuity, and processions of people with masked or blackened faces and fantastic hats danced through the streets. The custom of mummers visiting their neighbors in costume is still alive in Newfoundland, having descended from these Roman masked processions.
In 2012, thousands of people showed up at Stonehenge for the Winter Solstice celebrations because it was believed that the date marked the last day of the Mayan calendar, signaling the end of the world. Well, the world did not end, nor is it expected to end today.
Whatever your beliefs, do a little happy dance to celebrate the promise of longer and warmer days to come. Enjoy this Winter Solstice!