WInter Solstice Celebrations Through Time

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Last year on this very date, I wrote a post about the winter/hibernal solstice and how people have celebrated it through the ages. As the basics of that haven’t changed I’ve decided to reblog the post for anyone interested to glance at.

The solstice happens at the same moment for everyone worldwide. It occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly point (23.5 degrees: over the Tropic of Capricorn). Naturally this makes climatic conditions in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres very different at that time and the celebrations vary accordingly.

This year, 2017, the winter solstice occurs on Wednesday, December 21 at 10.44 GMT. (As I write this, the time here in the UK is exactly that!) This means that at ancient sites like Stonehenge, as well as many other venues worldwide, people will be gathering on Wednesday evening/night to wait for the sunrise the following morning. Having visited Stonehenge for the first time in early May, and written a post about the site, I can understand the enormity of its appeal as a venue for both the winter and summer solstices. It’s simply mystical and awe-inspiring.

I won’t say anything else or I’ll be duplicating what’s in the post. So here it is…

Millie Thom

Winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere over Asia

The word solstice comes from the Latin word, solstitium, which means ‘Sun standing still’. The December solstice is the day on which the Sun is at its most southerly point, directly overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn, before it reverses its direction and gradually starts to move north again.  The image above shows the winter solstice in the Northen Hemisphere over Asia.  (Author: Jecowa at English Wikipedia. Creative Commons).

To people in the Northern Hemisphere the winter solstice means the longest night, with the latest dawn and shortest day of the year, with the sun at its lowest point in the sky. The day after the winter solstice marks the beginning of lengthening days, as we head towards the summer solstice on June 21st 2016.

For those in the Southern Hemisphere the opposite is true: people will experience the shortest night and the earliest dawn, with the longest…

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About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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25 Responses to WInter Solstice Celebrations Through Time

  1. leggypeggy says:

    We’ve just enjoyed our summer solstice. Now our days will get longer. 😦

    • milliethom says:

      I can imagine what a great time you have down there in the sunshine and right now I’m feeling envious of that. The main thing I look forward to is longer days – I really don’t like night-time starting at 4 o’clock in the afternoon! So it’s a big yippee from me. Thanks, Peggy. 🙂

  2. How wonderfully informative, as well as entertaining, your post is, Millie! I think I am well enough to attend the Winter Solstice celebration this evening that is held each year at my church. It is an all-faiths (including no-faith) celebration attended by people from the whole metro area that includes drumming, dancing, singing, chanting, meditation, praying, shamans, priests, witches, a symbolic central hearth, tokens to take home and is lit by lots of candles. It’s a remarkable experience. I hope I get to go, especially after reading your great post! 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Your solstice celebrations sound amazing, Timi, and if I lived in your area, I’d be coming with you! I like the idea of the church holding an all-faiths – plus no-faiths- celebration. What a great way of bringing a community together. I’m sure you’ll have a fantastic time. I’d also love to experience the celebrations at Stonehenge, but I’m not sure I’d manage to stay awake all night! Lol. This getting older business isn’t to be recommended in my book! 🙂

      • Yes, Millie, the celebration should be awesome. I’m taking my two young friends from Delhi, India, with me. Stonehenge would be terrific, although, like you, staying up all night might be tough. About getting older, though: the alternative is not to be desired! 😛

      • milliethom says:

        I agree, the alternative is much worse. In actual fact, I haven’t suffered too much by getting older (so far!). Staying awake all night out in the open air (and cold!) would probably not be too hard. 🙂 You’ll have to let me know how your evening goes. Timi. I’m sure your young friends will love it.

      • Oh, Millie, I’ve had a relapse with my bronchitis and cannot go tonight. Getting older DOES suck–one doesn’t heal nearly as quickly as before! 😦

      • milliethom says:

        Oh, Timi, what a shame – but there’s always next year. Your health comes first, so do take care of yourself. Bronchitis is very nasty, and can so easily lead to pneumonia. As far as I can see, EVERYTHING slows down when we get older! Still, think positively, and focus on getting well enough to enjoy Christmas.

      • Thank you, Millie. Meanwhile, I’m quite enjoying Shadow of the Raven!

  3. wonderful post and like Newgrange same is true for MaesHowe in Orkneys. Christianity definitely borrowed the celebration of Saturnalia, and gift giving etc. I love reading these histories Millie. Blessings of the season to you and yours!

    • milliethom says:

      I imagine you’ve been to MaesHowe on your travels, Cybele. I haven’t been up to Orkneys or Shetlands yet, but I’d certainly love to at some stage. There’s so much up there I want to see. Like you, I like nothing better than delving into the history behind traditions of all kinds. I just wish I had more time to post more often. Blessings of the season to you, too, Cybele. I hope Christmas in your lovely new home is magical (in every way possible). 🙂

  4. arv! says:

    Thanks for the wonderful post! We don’t use the word solstice here much in India. Although the phenomenon is well known to us but in a different context. Lovely write up Millie 🙂

  5. milliethom says:

    Thank you for reading! I came across lots of information about how the solstice is celebrated in various countries around the world, but hadn’t time to read it all. Perhaps next year I’ll do a post about how some of those countries celebrate this time of year. You’ve intrigued me now, Arv, so I’ll just have to go and look up what you do in India! 🙂

  6. inesephoto says:

    Such a wonderful post, I can read it again and again 🙂 Winter Solstice is the most anticipated day of the year 🙂 Yay to the light 🙂

  7. It is always interesting to read how the various age old traditions evolved and were adapted to fit in with newer ones. There are, it seems, quite a few similarities between Yule, Christmas and the Winter Solstice celebration of Saturnalia. People’s lives were dominated by the change of seasons and they seem more in touch with nature than we are! How magical it would be to gather at Stonehenge to see that sunrise. Have you been there yourself? I was writing at the computer last night at 10.44 but am decidedly closer to the Tropic of Capricorn than you. ( it is about six hours drive from here! although I didn’t realise its signifcance to the solstice until I read your post!. Thanks, Millie!

    • milliethom says:

      Hi Amanda, it’s lovely to hear from you again. 🙂 I’ve just found your comment in my Spam! I really don’t know why it was there, and can only guess it’s because we’ve been out of touch for a while – my fault entirely. I’ve been very lax in getting back to people lately. I’m fascinated by the solstice celebrations, and yours would have been your summer one, I believe. I bet it’s hot there now, too.
      Stonehenge is a very special place and I can imagine the atmosphere under the towering stones, particularly at the winter solstice when it’s dark. I’ve only visited the site once, back in May this year and we weren’t allowed inside the circle. It’s only ‘opened’ for special events, like the solstice. I wrote a post about the history of the site because it fascinated me. I can’t believe we didn’t visit it when we lived so close to it (in Wantage) for six years in the ’70s.

      • Hi Millie, It sounds like a visit to Stonehengeat winter solstice is on your bucket list. So fascinating and special. Merry Xmas from Down under!! I wish for you and your family a positive healthy and happy 2017!! Hugs from Amanda

      • milliethom says:

        A visit to Stonehenge for the solstice just might be on my bucket list. I’m not sure I could stand the crowds, or staying awake all night, waiting for sunrise. I know it’s sight not to be missed, so I’d really love to go, so we’ll see. I wish you all a wonderful 2017, too, Amanda, and hope to be more active on my blog next year. I’ve been hopeless at reading blogs recently. ❤

  8. Joy Pixley says:

    Nice reminder to revisit a great post – thanks Millie! I love learning about how different cultures were inspired by the rhythms of nature to construct such interesting rituals. Always inspires me for my own world-building. Happy Solstice!

  9. milliethom says:

    Thanks for re-reading it! I don’t reblog many posts because I always think no one will want to re-read. I just find times like the solstice fascinating, historically as well at the present time. Rites and rituals held on these occasions in the distant past may well be of use, adapted to fit into Eneana.

  10. Christy B says:

    I loved reading the ways people of the past celebrated the winter solstice, Millie!

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