The Winter Solstice: A Time for Inner Reflection

© Dr. Jane Simington Ph.D., December 2012

 

The winter solstice occurs when the Sun is at its southernmost point in the sky. This usually takes place on December 21 to 22 and creates, in the Northern hemisphere, the longest night of the year because the hours of darkness on that day are greater than they are at any other time of the year.

While interpretation of the ever-increasing darkness surrounding these days varied from culture to culture, the physical remains in archaeological sites such as Stonehenge in England, and Newgrange in Ireland indicate that the winter solstice was acknowledged. The primary axes of both these monuments are aligned with a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise in Newgrange, and the winter solstice sunset in Stonehenge.  Some believe that these exact alignments indicate a belief by these ancient peoples that during the winter solstice the earth is more closely aligned with cosmic forces and that prayers and offerings made during these hours are more likely to be received and responded to than if made at other times of the year. Evidence also indicates that these and most other cultures in the Northern hemisphere held ceremonies in recognition of the event. Common to most cultures were rituals appealing for the rebirth of the sun gods because during the winter months when the sun did not provide warmth and light for the growth of grains, starvation was common.

solsticetreeCeremonies honoring the return of the sun after the longest night continued into ancient Greek and Romans times. The festivals most commonly occurred on the night of December 24 and December 25. Christmas, the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus the “Son of God,” is also observed on December 25. Many celebrations attributed to Christmas eve and Christmas day are rooted in the ceremonies and festivals held during the winter solstice, including the advent preparation of letting go of the old so that the new can be birthed.

As the longest night approaches we are once again reminded that the cyclical rhythms of nature, are also within us and affects us deeply. The fading light causes us to acknowledge that darkness touches every life. Each of us experiences times of metaphoric coldness, yet when we allow ourselves to seize the opportunity, we settle in and re-centre. As we do, we become aware that this dormant time allows us to amass energy for our next great movement forward. Being thus connected with the seasonal changes in our own lives, as mirrored by the cyclic changes in nature, we bless the darkness knowing that it is always darkest just before daybreak, and that very soon a door will open through which the returning light will stream.

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