What Is the Winter Solstice?

What Is the Winter Solstice?

Smack in the middle of the holiday season, something called the Winter Solstice continually shows up – well after Thanksgiving and just before Christmas. Not much commercial attention is given to the event although there seems to be an increasing number of gatherings and festivities to “honor” the day.

So what is the Winter Solstice and who would want to honor it? Astronomically and here in the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice is the first day of winter as well as the day with the most darkness and the least daylight. The Summer Solstice brings the longest day and the shortest night. Historically, the Winter Solstice was special to those who spent most of their lives outside or as nomads hunting their food year round. The lack of sunlight had a profound impact on daytime hunting; and, since their very lives depended on hunting, it was very important that the daylight came back and for longer periods. This noticing of the varying lengths of daylight would be associated with honoring the sun, sometimes called sun worshipping. Even today, we notice the days getting shorter and shorter and begin to monitor the season and celebrate when the time of longer daylight is “reborn.”

In the 4th century, Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, consolidated local religions into a single religion called Christianity. It is interesting that the 25th of December was chosen to be the date to celebrate the birth of Jesus because the Bible doesn’t specify the day or year that Jesus was born.  The day likely was selected in association with the pagan solstice celebration and its “rebirth” theme to successfully enroll the pagans to accept Christianity. Later in that century, Pope Julius endorsed the selection. And so it was.

The development of ancillary celebrations, e.g. Advent, the Epiphany, and even New Year’s Day, can seem almost random considering the lack of factual basis for Christmas. But, the Winter Solstice was the original reason to celebrate the season, and perhaps it should be. In recent years, we are seeing more and more solstice celebrations popping up, seeming to enrich our holiday season without belittling the sacredness of the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

I suggest that Winter Solstice is an opportunity to illuminate all those things that didn’t work in the last year and to affirm those things in the coming year that would move us towards our spiritual awakening, our Enlightenment. Wouldn’t this be a great way to “celebrate” the rebirth that Christmas offers? Could this bring our focus on our continued spiritual growth amid the commercial offerings of this season? The Winter Solstice has become an essential part of my holiday celebration and illuminates a bigger picture.

Here at Unity Minneapolis, we are offering a Winter Solstice celebration process that focuses on surrendering, rebirth and renewal. Consider joining us on the evening of the Winter Solstice on Wednesday, December 21 at 6:30 PM for our annual renewal process. Come and be prepared to let go of all that hasn’t been working so that we can move forward into our magnificence in the New Year.

 

–Thomas Maiello