I LOVE the winter solstice.
There are many festivals during the month of December. But the one I like to celebrate, is the winter solstice. I love the idea that we’re experiencing the shortest day of the year on 21 December this year, in the northern hemisphere, at any rate. In the southern hemisphere, the opposite happens as it’s the longest day of their summer.
The word, ‘solstice,’ derives from the Latin, ‘stolstitium,’ meaning ‘sun standing still.’ And in fact, on this day, the Sun does seem to stand still in the Tropic of Capricorn, before it ‘turns around,’ and reverses its direction.
I just love the fact that the day after the winter solstice the days start to lengthen again until the summer solstice. It’s such a joyous reminder that life goes on, no matter what our own personal challenges might be. A promise that summer will return to our lives, no matter the darkness that some of us have to battle.
This time of the year can be particularly challenging for many of us as we face the challenges of being with people we don’t normally spend time with, and perhaps we have difficult relationships with them, or for others it’s the loneliness that this time of the year can bring. It seems such a pivotal time because it’s so close to the new year. It’s a time when many of us make new decisions for our lives in the new year.
This year, for the first time in years and years, my husband will be in London with me, and we will spend the winter solstice and Christmas together. I’m usually on my own at this time of the year, and over the years, have developed my own ritual that I love and look forward to every year. So, to have him here this year will be quite lovely but strange.
It is thought, in times gone by, though, that the winter solstice was indeed more important to people than the summer solstice. It was the time when wine and beer were finally fully fermented and animals were slaughtered. It meant they did not have to be fed through the winter. But it led to big feasts that everyone could look forward to and enjoy.
The winter solstice has been celebrated throughout the ages by many different cultures. Among others, we find Saturnalia in Ancient Rome starting from around 217 BCE that included a huge weeklong feast. The Feast of Yuul in Scandinavia involved putting an entire tree in the fireplace. Yalda, an Ancient Iranian festival celebrates ‘the longest and darkest night of the year,’ and the re-birth of the sun, and during Santo Thomas in Guatemala participants still indulge in the flying pole dance.
Today, in the UK, people flock to Stonehenge in Salisbury, Newgrange in Ireland, or Maeshowe in Scotland to celebrate the re-birth of the sun. All these megalithic monuments clearly align with the sun and face the winter solstice sunrise.
I’d like to wish you all a wonderful winter solstice, however you celebrate it.