Today is the Winter Solstice. It marks the darkest day of the year and is celebrated because tomorrow, and each day forward, the days will get longer – the sun shining a little bit more in the sky each day.
My family has celebrated solstice for as long as I can remember. Often I get questions about it and sometimes see reactions shrouded in stereotypes of magic, witchcraft or pagan nonsense. The funny thing is when you know the history, the meaning is no more (or less) magical than taking time to enjoy the golden glow of a sunset. Only this event happens once a year.
Examples of celebrating solstice can be found in ancient structures as old as 5,000+ years throughout Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa. It is also a time of year when today’s largest religious or cultural holidays take place: Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, Divali, Soyal, and more. In fact, each of these holidays share a similar theme: light (candles, fires) or the rebirth of the sun (also “son” of God).
In fact, many of today’s Christmas festivities have the closest roots to festivals designed around this celestial event. For example, the Feast of Juul, today called ‘Yule,’ was a pre-Christian festival observed in Scandinavia at the time of the December solstice. People would light fires to symbolize the heat and light of the rebirth of the sun. The Yule Log often was an entire tree, carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony. Gifts (or offerings) were placed on or around the tree to honor the Sun God while people gathered for feasting.
If you step back from religious doctrine or today’s cultural rituals, it makes sense that the sun would be an original source of inspiration for many of our interpretations of spirituality. And for people who relied on the earth to bring them food, the returning of the sun was cornerstone to their survival. Now that we are further from this reality, perhaps it is harder to understand, but the sun returning in the sky is still as critical and magical for us as it was for our ancestors.
Wishing you all love and light on this day and each day forth. Merry Solstice, dear friends!