Tonight marks the winter solstice. Basically this means that at 11:49 pm EST, the northern hemisphere will be furthest from the sun and therefore, receives the least amount of sunlight. It is the shortest day of the year and is no coincidence that it occurs right before Christmas.
The word ‘Christmas’ originates from the old English ‘Cristes Maesse’ meaning ‘mass of Christ’. The Christmas story began with the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. We celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but historians do not know for a fact that this was the actual birth day of Christ. More likely, Christmas is celebrated on the 25th because it corresponds with the winter solstice – a celebratory time for many ancient, pre-Christian cultures.
The above photo is Stonehenge, an ancient structure in Wiltshire, England. According to stonehengetours.com, “Stonehenge is carefully aligned on a sight-line that points to the winter solstice sunset…” This next photo, taken during the winter solstice in 1985, illustrates this phenomenon.
Many of the traditions we celebrate during the Christmas season are similar to ancient celebrations. For example, the Celtic druids believed that mistletoe was a sacred plant and they used it for healing during the winter months. The ancient romans honored their sun-god with wreaths made of holly. In Europe, the pagans sang carols during the winter solstice. The meaning of the word carol is to dance around something.
I find the winter solstice comforting because I know that while there are many dark days ahead, the days are actually getting longer from this point forward.
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