For some, the Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year. For the optimists among us, the great news is that, as of December 22, 2011, the days of winter get longer. Some of us have been in a decline since June. We celebrate the Winter Solstice with all the acclaim deserving of the first longer day! It is no surprise to know that the Winter Solstice echoes with the voices of legendary customs around this small globe where it’s pretty much all about the sun.
In times of great legend I am inclined to turn to the Celts who know how to deck an occasion with all the frills. Though the lunar does not make the Top Ten Celtic Favorites, the annual event did produce a prehistoric monument in Ireland, the Newgrange about which I have written and reflected. Once a year, the tomb at Newgrange fills with light to reveal the Celtic artwork on the stones. It’s a time when the veils between the worlds come together in wondrous – sometimes awful ways.
The Winter Solstice is a moveable feast. Though Julius Caesar’s calendar set the date as December 23 times change, though the sun seems steady enough. Pope Gregory got in the act when he established December 22 (or thereabouts) as the Solstice on the Gregorian calendar. In astronomical terms the solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly declination of 223.5 degrees, i.e. when the North Pole is tilted at the same spin from the South Pole. On the Solstice all places above a latitude of 66.5 degrees north are in darkness, while locations below a latitude of the same level south receive 24 hours of daylight.
Worthy of note is the fact that the earth itself is a bit erratic in that the orb doesn’t move at a constant speed, resulting in the fact that the seasons are not of equal length. The good news is that for sun-deprived Minnesotans, the spring and summer seasons are longer than autumn and winter.
Legends surrounding the Winter Solstice reflect ancient times and embrace a range of customs and habits, human and otherwise. Some of the lore is probably based on humankind’s understandable concern about survival itself; months of sowing, reaping, preservation and more had gone into the planning for the winter months.
From this optimist’s perspective the Winter Solstice offers a happy opportunity to celebrate rebirth, the warmth of the sun, and the fact that hope springs eternal in the human breast.