Solstice literally means the ‘sun stands still’, and is a biannual astronomical event; for a few days around the time of the solstice the sun appears to stand still in the sky, in that its elevation at noon does not seem to change. The winter solstice marks days with the shortest daylight and longest nights, but it also marks when this starts to reverse and the daylight increases. This solstice is celebrated by many traditions and in many places- basically as the celebration of return of the sun at the darkest time of winter. This year the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice occurs on December 22nd at 05:30 GMT / UT (to find this in your time zone use this converter).
Winter Solstice Traditions
For a modern Druid interpretation of this holiday see Alban Arthan – The Winter Solstice . The National Public Radio Interfaith Voices Radio program had a December 15th program on Druids, Stonehenge and the Winter Solstice, with Arthur U. Pendragon- British Druid Order & John Michael Greer- Ancient Order of Druids in America- it is well worth listening to.
In Ireland a huge ‘passage tomb’ complex aligned to the winter solstice was built 5000+ years ago. At the winter solstice the central passage of the main ‘tomb’- Newgrange– is lit by the rising of the sun. This event can be witnessed in person if you win a lottery to attend (and the weather cooperates). The lighting of the central passage by the sun on the solstice will be streamed live at December 21st from about 8:30am local time (3:30 am EST in the US) at Heritage Ireland and Irish broadcaster rte. (Keep trying to login- past viewer counts have gotten as high as 300,000!) There is also an archive of past Newgrange winter solstice webcasts. (And just because it’s interesting go here for a video about Newgrange being the center of an ancient ‘ceremonial landscape’.)
Yalda Night– is a Persian winter solstice celebration. Popular since ancient times, the winter solstice with the longest night of the year was an auspicious day. Yalda Night started as part of the worship of Mithras, who according to Persian mythology, as the sun god was born at dawn on the 22nd of December to a virgin mother. He symbolizes light, truth, goodness, strength, and friendship.
Chaomos– is a celebration of at least seven days, including December 21, the winter solstice. Chaomos is the winter festival of the Kalasha (also known as Kalash Kafir) people, who live in valleys in the northwestern corner of Pakistan.
Saturnalia– was the ancient roman version of the winter solstice holiday. It is still celebrated by some Pagans today.
So Happy Winter Solstice everyone!