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It began as a simple solution to address an overwhelming phenomenon. The season of growth gave way to the season of harvest; a time to gather in all supplies and surplus for the long winter’s famine ahead. As northern hemisphere agrarians, they depended upon the soil and the Sun for their survival. But as the seasons turned toward winter, the soil hardened, while the Sun began its lowered descent in the winter sky.

The daylight became shorter and the temperatures colder. To the human psyche of the time, it seemed that the day’s light was burning out, eventually leaving all life in permanent darkness and extreme cold. So it was no wonder that ceremonies, rituals and celebrations flourished as humans initially experienced the turn of the seasons; flowing both from a sense of hope that the Sun would begin its high-arcing path across the sky once again and from a sense of desperation, as an attempt to stave off potential death and evil. Regardless of the variety of these early practices or beliefs, the outcomes seem apparent and similar: to remain in the light as long as possible or, at the very least, to simply keep the darkness at bay.


Solstice remains an annual celestial phenomenon that has captivated the human spirit and its wonder throughout time. Simply put, the Earth – as an imperfect spherical oval – continues on its elliptical journey around the Sun, while rotating on its own axis. During its elliptical voyage, the Earth gradually tilts toward (Summer Solstice) and away from (Winter Solstice) the Sun at an angle of about 23.44 degrees. It is this tilt that is the general cause of the seasons, rather than the earth’s distance from the Sun. The term solstice derives from the Latin words sol (Sun) and sistere (to stand still); it is when the Sun seems to stand still in its declination. In other words, it is that time of the year when its movement either north or south is minimal.

For the northern hemisphere, Summer Solstice occurs on or around June 21 of each year; the days immediately before and after receive the longest amount of sunlight. Winter Solstice for the northern hemisphere occurs on or around December 21; the days immediately before and after receive the least amount of sunlight. In particular, it is this Winter Solstice phenomena that has intrigued and plagued humankind throughout its journey over the centuries. As residents of a planet just a mere 93 million miles from a Population I (third-generation) star, we are quite accustomed to light and warmth. Gradually remove that light and warmth for a large portion of any day and we tend to find ourselves nestled inside, either under a cozy blanket or next to the hearth and/or heater.

We are creatures of the light and warmth, my friend; so much so, that when denied this prolonged light, a good portion of the northern hemisphere’s population will suffer from some mild to extreme form of seasonal affective disorder (also known as winter depression or winter blues). This perennial prolonged darkness, this solstice, has had such a profound impact on humans that the majority of history’s cultures and religions can trace the origins of one of its holidays, feasts or important ceremonies to have begun near or on the Winter Solstice. From the ritual Lenaea, the Festival of the Wild Women in Ancient Greece to the Inca ceremony of Inti Raymi, The Festival of the Sun, cultures have attempted to understand and embrace the darkness of the season. It was even the Winter Solstice, this darkness, which spurred cultures and religions to establish or adopt such nostalgic traditions and symbols as the holly and ivy, mistletoe, the yule log, the giving of gifts, magical reindeer and decorated evergreen trees. As I stated before, many of these traditions, rituals and ceremonies seem to share a similar goal: to remain in the light as long as possible or, at the very least, to simply keep the darkness at bay.

I do wholeheartedly believe that we are creatures of warmth and light. We are well aware of the childhood fear of the darkness and unknown that still lurks within each of us. We know and seek out the comfort of standing at the bonfire’s edge, palms outstretched, warming ourselves against Life’s chill. We realize and embrace the joy of gathering around the hearth, singing songs of warmer days and warmer moments in our life with friends. We fully grasp the security of a well lit home on a long winter night. And we fully appreciate the safety amidst loved ones during Life’s darkest moments. Perhaps this is the beauty and benefit of the Winter Solstice; a momentarily lull in which to assess all that is worthy, loving, and noble in our life, amidst this backdrop of darkness. And we reflect upon it, harvest it and hold it dear for the potential winter famines that lie ahead in our life.

As you celebrate your personal traditions, ceremonies and rituals during these darkest days of the year, my friend, I invite you to remind yourself of why you began and continue celebrating these events... and immerse yourself in them. Reclaim their warmth and intensity; light a candle, sing a carol, reach out to another, throw on another log, lift a prayer to the stars, and make and keep a resolution. Regardless of whether these traditions or ceremonies are embraced so as to allow just a few more moments in the Light’s glow or simply to keep the darkness at a distance, the result is the same: your spirit is lightened and enlightened. Envelope yourself with the warmth and light of this season and rest easy knowing that just beyond the darkness, the seeds of a new season and new Sun are preparing to emerge.


Post Note: For the inquiring mind, the Winter Solstice is predicted to occur in the northern hemisphere on the following dates and times during upcoming years:

2007 December 22 @ 6:09
2008 December 21 @ 11:59
2009 December 21 @ 17:49
2010 December 21 @ 23:38

The times above are in UT (Universal Time), which used to be called Greenwich Mean Time or GMT. In North America, you can identify your local time by subtracting:

• 3 hours 30 minutes for Newfoundland time
• 4 hours for ATL
• 5 hours for EST
• 6 hours for CST
• 7 hours for MST
• 8 hours for PST
• 9 hours for ALA
• 10 hours for Hawaiian time

All nature images within this article were photographed by Lee Hoedl.

Copyright 2006, Lee Hoedl, leehoedl@yahoo.com