Tuesday, December 22, 2015
The holiday season is well underway. In the free, multi-cultural society of the United States, there is a veritable smorgasbord of holidays to choose from. Some are celebrated, or at least acknowledged, by the masses, others are more obscure. Some of the observations and celebrations include: Thanksgiving, Diwali, Human Rights Day, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Winter Solstice, Humbug Day, Christmas, Milad un Nabi, New Year and World Peace Meditation Day. A Google search about each one yields interesting reading that underscores the rich and diverse traditions of a nation that proudly claims itself to be a melting pot of humanity.
Today marks the Winter Solstice, also called Midwinter. It stands apart from the other observations of the season in that it is an astronomical event, as well as a cultural and religious celebration. There are two solstices in the solar year: Winter Solstice and Summer Solstice. The Winter Solstice occurs in December and marks the shortest day and longest night of the solar year, while the Summer Solstice happens in June and marks the longest day and the shortest night.
Between each of the solstices there is an equinox. The Spring Equinox takes place in March and the Fall Equinox in September. Both mark days and nights of equal length. All of these events happen as a part of the solar year that comprises the Earth's journey around the Sun. Each hemisphere experiences the solstices and their accompanying seasons at opposite times of the year. The December solstice is the official beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the continuance of the cycle of seasons on our home planet. To look at it another way, it is the astronomical new year.
In some traditions, the solstices and equinoxes are important waymarks in the agricultural calendar. In fact, The Twelve Days of Christmas may have originally been a blending of the Scandinavian Yule festival and the practice in some regions of slaughtering cattle, and other animals used for food, in the winter time. Animals that couldn't be fed off the farms during the cold, winter months were butchered and a community feast followed.
The solstices also mark important days in some religious traditions. Because it is the turning point in the length of days, daytime ceases to become shorter and light begins to linger longer. In pagan traditions, this marked the time of the rebirth of the sun. Because of this, solstice celebrations often include bonfires or candles to represent the triumph of light over darkness.
The solstices are naturally occurring events that can serve to remind humanity of a common bond shared by all: this home called Earth and the dependence of each one upon it. Perhaps taking a few moments to observe this event and its significance would make room for considering the fragile balance on which life on this planet depends and the interconnectedness of all its inhabitants.