Thursday, December 21, 2006


I'm getting two conflicting reports about when the Winter Solstice is this year. One calendar says Dec 21 while another says Dec 22. I'm going with Dec 22 since it's the usual date. (Upon further research I find that whether it's the 21st or 22nd depends on what time zone you're in. For the East coast it's early on the 22nd. For the rest of the States it's the 21st.)

Winter Solstice, for those of you who slept through science class or attended DC public school, is the shortest day and longest night of the year...barring, of course, that time when you accidently swapped the Vivarin and Tylenol and couldn't blink until about 4:30 in the morning. The Earth's rotational axis tilted 23° 27 minutes from that of our sun. This means that during some parts of the year the north axis points at the sun and during some parts of the year the south axis points at the sun. The winter and summer solstices mark the extremes of this cycle. The Winter Solstice also marks the beginning of the Dougmas season.

The Solstice has been celebrated by various cultures going back for millenia. Whatever else it may have been, Stonehenge was a calendar for marking the various solstices and equinoxes. There's also the Newgrange mound in Ireland that just marks the Winter Solstice and predates Stonehenge by several centuries.

The Romans celebrated the solstice with the Saturnalia festival that lasted from Dec 17 to Dec 23. During this time they'd dedicate the temple to Saturn, the god of farming. They'd also decorate their homes with evergreen trees and wreaths, deck the halls with boughs of holly, and exchange gifts.

Other cultures use the solstice to celebrate the births of Egyptian Osiris, Greek Apollo and Bacchus, Chaldean Adonis, and Persian Mithra. All sun gods.
Germans built a stone altar to Hertha, or Bertha, goddess of domesticity and the home, during winter solstice.
The Norse had Odin, a big bearded man dressed in red who travelled through fire, who brought gifts to good children. He also brought along a demon to flog, punish, or even take bad children. This demon remains in eastern European celebrations in Santa's companion Krumpus.

The festival of Deus Sol Invictus ("the undefeated sun god") was celebrated on the day that the days start getting longer after the winter solstice. That day happens to be Dec 25. So it could be argued that they just went from celebrating the rebirth of the sun god to celebrating the rebirth of God's son.

In the 4th Century Rome was pretty well Christianized (probably not a word, but work with me here). While the death of Christ was celebrated at Easter (another co-oped holiday) his birth wasn't celebrated. Despite all evidence pointed to his birth in the spring Christian leaders chose Dec 25 to celebrate his birth.

So that's the reason for the season. This Christ guy is just some wanna be Johnny come lately. The season is about celebrating the return of the sun.

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