In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice marks the longest day of the year and on that day until the winter solstice, the days get progressively shorter. The winter solstice is the moment when the days begin to get longer again. Just the reverse is true in the southern hemisphere, but the two solstices themselves occur at exactly the same moment for everyone on earth.
The origin of the word "solstice" is the Latin solstitium from "sol" meaning sun and "-stitium" meaning a stoppage.
Observing the sun over time, you can see the sun rising further and
further to the south until the winter solstice when it slows and stops
and then reverses.
The winter solstice in the northern
hemisphere is close to the same time as Christmas, and many of our
Christmas traditions originated from the days before Christianity, when
the solstice was celebrated. Traditions for celebrating the end of
shorter days and the beginning of longer days (winter solstice) have
been practiced around the world for many thousands of years.
Stonehenge on the British Isles, for example, the huge stones are
arranged in such a way that they frame the setting sun on the day of
winter solstice. The ancient Brits had a tradition of tying apples to
the branches of oak trees in the dead of winter to affirm that summer
would come again. The Celts put mistletoe on their altars.
ancient Romans celebrated the winter solstice by giving gifts. And they
feasted for a week. Servants traded places with their masters — the
masters serving their servants during the feast. They also had a
tradition during winter solstice of bringing evergreens indoors.
Scandinavian countries, the sun disappears in the dead of winter. In
the far north, it disappears for as long as 35 days. The ancient people
of the far north had a tradition of feasting when the dark days were
over and the sun once again shone on the horizon. They celebrated with
what they called a Yuletide festival. They feasted in a long hall while a
Yule log burned in the fireplace. They thought of mistletoe as sacred.
Kissing under mistletoe was a fertility ritual. Holly berries were
considered to be the food of the gods.
celebrations were officially replaced with Christian ceremonies during
Roman times as a way of overtaking the ancient traditions, even though
Jesus wasn't really born in December. It was a political act. December
25th used to be the solstice with the old calendar. It usually happens
on December 21st with the modern calendar.
Christian usurping of the celebration was a long time ago. It's water
under the bridge and really at this point, who cares? We could start
fresh and celebrate the solstice instead of (or in addition to) our
other celebrations. We could celebrate the turning of the season. We
could celebrate longer and warmer days ahead.
keep our celebrations, but change the date, and that way more people
could celebrate together. In other words, if you normally drink eggnog
and trim a tree and open presents for Christmas, you could do exactly
the same things, except do them on the Solstice. Or people with
different customs could celebrate their customs and traditions (for
Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.) on their designated days, but also celebrate the solstice with everyone.
solstice has nothing to do with religion, race, or nationality. Every
one of us relies on the sun for our warmth, our sunlight, and our food.
We rely on the sun for life. The time and date of the solstice can be accurately determined and it occurs at the same moment everywhere on earth.
solstice might some day become an international holiday. This could be
the beginning of something wonderful — a point of unification, a place
of agreement, a universal tradition.
You can begin this
year by celebrating the solstice in even a small way. Take any of the
traditions normally associated with the holiday season and do some part
of it on the solstice. Give a gift. Eat a feast. Be kinder to your
fellow human beings. Invite people of all faiths to your home to
celebrate the end of the longest night and the beginning of longer days.
The celebration of the solstice in your own home could actually and
concretely work for peace on earth and goodwill toward all women and
I wish you a Merry Solstice.
Adam Khan is the author of Self-Reliance, Translated, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.