The Winter Solstice, falling this year on Wednesday 21st December in the northern hemisphere, is an astronomical phenomenon that marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year, with only 7 hours, 49 minutes and 41 second of daylight in Britain.
The term solstice is derived from the Latin word “solstitium”, meaning ‘sun standing still’. On this day, the sun seems to stand still at the Tropic of Capricorn and then reverses direction as it reaches its southern most position as seen from the earth.
It is unclear how long the solstice has been marked by rituals and ceremonies, however evidence has been found across cultures, that tombs, temples and observatories have been built in alignment with the solstice and the return of the rising sun.
At its root, the solstice is a celebration of the light beginning to return to the world, the rebirth of the sun and all the abundance it brings to the earth. Concepts such as the resurgence of life, the cyclical nature of life, death and rebirth, a new start to the year and new beginnings were common to many cultures. In other cultures, there was a concern that without human intervention the light would not return at all!
The pagans of northern Europe celebrated a 12-day mid-winter holiday called “Yule”. Many of our modern Christmas traditions such as the Christmas tree, mistletoe, Yule Log and Christmas wreaths can be traced back to Yule customs. Yule was considered to be the awakening of nature and was associated with the birth of the “Divine King” long before Christianity. The sun was considered to represent male divinity and was celebrated at this time through the “return of the sun god”.
Historically, the winter solstice was of huge importance for tracking the change in the seasons. It marks the start of deep winter and the great mid-winter feast would have been held before the “famine months” of January to April, during which starvation would have been common. Cattle would have been slaughtered, so they would not need to be fed over the winter, so it was the time of the year with the most plentiful meat supply. Beer and wine made in the summer would be ready for drinking. All the ingredients for winter merriment in abundance!
So. this winter solstice perhaps spend a moment appreciating what the sun with all its warmth and light brings for you each and every day and remember to celebrate wholeheartedly with loved ones the joy of life, birth and the many opportunities that new beginnings bring…
Helen Smith, Trainee Yoga Teacher, TRH Office and Marketing Manager