Friday, December 20, 2013

December 21, 2014, Winter Solstice - “Although It’s Been Said Many Times Many Ways”

Winter Solstice arrives on December 21st at 3:03 p.m. PST.  The word ‘solstice’ comes from the latin words, sol – meaning sun and sisto – stop.  During Solstice the Sun will appear to stop in the sky and then ever so infinitesimally, reverse its direction. From that point until the Summer Solstice in June, our number of daylight hours continues to increase. 

Earth’s orbit causes us to tilt 23.5 degrees away from the Sun at this time of year. Not all at once, of course.  We start leaning this way after the Summer Solstice and arrive at full tilt by December 21st.  Afterwards we start the journey back so that by early summer we are tilting a full 23.5 degrees towards the Sun. At Winter Solstice everything above latitude, 66.5 degrees north (the Arctic Circle) has twenty-four hours of darkness and everything below latitude 66.5 degrees south (Antarctica) receives twenty-four hours of light.  This also gradually reverses after December 21st.

Humans began cultivating crops more than 10,000 years ago.
January through April were known as the ‘famine months.’
Unfortunately, they still are in many parts of the world with strictly agrarian cultures.  Each civilization has had its way to mark the end of the year and all of them centered on Winter Solstice.  Plentiful stores of grain and preserved foods were the only chance you had of surviving the bleak winter months.  Typically, excess animals were slaughtered during Winter Solstice to make certain there would be enough feed for the rest of the herd to last the winter.  The culled animals  were then used to create the medieval feasts that still live on in songs like “Good King Wenceslas.”  

The ancient Egyptians (approximately 4,000 years ago) marked Winter Solstice with a festival celebrating the rebirth of their sun god, Horus.  The festival lasted twelve days – one day for each month of their twelve month year.  The palm fronds used to decorate their homes had twelve leaves as well.  I wonder what the lyrics were to the “Twelve Days of Horusmas?” Each ancient civilization (particularly those enjoying a good party) celebrated solstice – Babylonians, Persians, ancient Greeks and Romans, to name a few.  Each of them also left their imprint on how cultures celebrate Winter Solstice and Christmas today.

The Persians crowned a mock king during their celebrations,
a practice that centuries later, morphed into the European traditions of naming the Lord of Misrule to oversee their celebrations.  The Greeks burned large logs in their homes every year to ward off the kallikantzaroi,monster-like imps who threatened children, giving us the first Yule log. Druidic tradition gave us holly, mistletoe and evergreen boughs to be used as decorations.  

The numerical card for Winter Solstice
12/21/14 is #13, Transformation
seen here from "OSHO Zen Tarot©"
by Deva Padma - The end of one cycle and
the beginning of another - most appropriate
All these festivals share a common theme – the celebration of light.  Ancient solstice festivals were primarily a time for reflecting on your place in the world. They were a time of sharing hope as well as some of what you’d put by for the winter with your friends, family and those less fortunate than yourself.  You took stock of the year gone by, rejoiced in it and made plans for the year to come – what you’d do differently given the chance.  Most importantly, you’d take time to think about the miracle of life and how light, either physical or spiritual, turns cold, dark earth into something rich and fertile.  Each of us carries this genetic memory deep in our DNA.  It is the reason that past all the mall decorations and online hoopla we can still look into a single candle flame and feel the nature, the wonder of the Divine.  

No matter the tenets of your faith, enjoy the light of this special season.  May it bring you hope, peace and resolve for the year ahead. 

With Love and Blessings,


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