The winter solstice has arrived for us in the states! The shortest day of the year. No matter how you celebrate this part of the year it has undoubtedly been a significant time for many cultures since prehistory.
The winter solstice occurs when one of the Earth's poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun. It happens twice yearly, once in the Northern hemisphere and once in the Southern. For us in the north, the winter solstice is the day with the longest night of the year and the shortest amount of daylight. At the northern pole, there is continuous darkness or twilight around the winter solstice. Some cultures see it as the beginning of winter while many temperate regions view it as the middle. The northern winter solstice happens either on December 21st or 22nd. This year, in 2018, it occurs on the 21st. In the southern hemisphere, the June Solstice, as it is known, occurs on June 20th or 21st.
The solstice was an important time of the yearly cycle for some cultures, evidence suggests even pre neolithic times. Astronomical events were often used in the same way we today would use a calendar. They could track when to sow crops, breed animals or track resource use. Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from these times and events. The changing of the seasons and thus its effects on the environments around ancient people was viewed by many of them as the eternal battle of light/dark or even good/evil. as the winter solstice came so too did winter, or the peak of it. Plants are dying, its cold, food stores run low and birth rates were not high. It surely would have seemed to an ancient person that the dark gods or spirits had more power during these times. As spring would come so too the time of birth, life, light and growth. To which it would have seemed the gods of light and good are prevailing. These themes are seen in many traditions even to this day. Holidays were important to keep people surviving those hard times of the year and to give reverence to the gods in hopes that they would allow them to survive the winter. There were cultures who even believed that the coming of shorter days meant the sun was leaving. Thus rituals and ceremonies were made to appease the sun and get it to return.
Many peoples and cultures still celebrate this longest night of the year as well as the time around it. Celebrations include "Yule" to many denominations of Neo-pagans, stemming from historic Germanic peoples. In Iran there is "Yalda". "Korochun" in many slavic countries. Also going by other names all over eastern Asia including China, Japan and India. Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa are also celebrated around the same time as this annual event.
No matter what your holiday is, we all seem to be bonded around this time of year. In the past, present and the future. Happy holidays from Smokin Js.
-Aaron "Sherpa" Pacora