The Winter Solstice: When the Days Actually Start to Get Longer
As we approach the Winter Solstice, the days are shorter and the nights get longer, here in Canada. Canadians tend to crave daylight and complain about never seeing the light of day. Many Canadians are Vitamin D deficient, partially related to diminished sunlight. And many in the northern hemisphere suffer from S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which is believed to be related to deficient time spent in natural light. These aspects of winter sound dark, bleak, cold, and unappealing.
However, the winter solstice (Yule) is an auspicious day. Throughout time, the winter solstice has been celebrated, often in conjunction with the magical, mystical powers of the moon. Spiritual, cultural, and traditional celebrations often occur at the time of the solstice. Midwinter, Yule, The Longest Night marks the beginning of the shortening nights and lengthening days – so, in fact, the winter solstice is a day of promise, of light.
Celebrations include festivals, spending time with loved ones, feasting, lighting candles, singing and dancing, often around fires. It is the time of the yule log. Modern Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations have incorporated many winter solstice traditions.
The pagan celebration of winter solstice (or hibernal solstice) is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world. Ancient people, who were mostly hunters, spent much of their time outdoors and the changing seasons had major impacts on their lives. Most celebrations incorporated a spiritual element and focused on gratitude as the days were becoming longer.
Winter solstice can fall on December 20, 21, 22 or 23, although the 23rd is very rare. The dates vary depending on the tilt of the earth’s axis. While it is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice is occurring in the southern hemisphere. The winter solstice occurs when the sun is exactly overhead of the Tropic of Capricorn. It is described as the day the sun stands still. The sun appears to stand still at its most southern position and then seems to reverse directions. It is also referred to as the day the sun turns around. The winter solstice is the first day of astronomical winter. Surprisingly, it is not when the earth is furthest from the sun but it is actually when it is closest. The decreased daylight time is due to how much the earth is slanted on its orbit around the sun.
Beliefs are related to the ‘birth’ of the sun – universally and personally. The sun rising on the darkest of days of the winter solstice is reminiscent of the spiritual birth of light from darkness on the first day of creation. “… and God called the light Day and the darkness Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.” (Genesis1:1-5) Ancient Egyptians had temples dedicated to the connection between creation and the winter solstice. The spiritual sun is seen as a living Divine fire, the source, and is symbolic of power, light, fuel. The solar plexus chakra is often associated with the energy of the sun.(For more information about the chakra system, check out Finding Balance and Forgiveness through Chakras and Art) The birth of the sun (son) and light and the break from darkness is significant in most cultures, religions, and spiritual belief systems.
I struggle with the loss of day light that becomes noticeable in October and November, but I start to get excited in December, knowing that the days will start to lengthen. Despite the short days and long nights leading up to the solstice, the angle of sunlight is beautiful at this time of year. Outdoor photography taken near the winter solstice has a magical feel – like the magic associated with many winter solstice celebrations.