December 21st is the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year. The Winter Solstice has been seen as an auspicious day since ancient times. Many cultural and religious traditions mark the solstice in many ways.

The shortest day of the year

During the first day of winter, the sun comes closer to the horizon than any other day of the year, which is why the amount of daylight significantly decreases. The days following the winter solstice mark the beginning of longer days leading up to summer. It is also the darkest day but not necessarily the coldest.

The Solstices occur twice a year (around December 31 and June 21), respectively, the shortest and the longest day of the year.

Centuries of Traditions

Throughout history, humans have been celebrating the Winter Solstice. Many massive prehistoric monuments, including Ireland’s mysterious Newgrange tomb and Stonehenge in Southern England, are aligned to capture the first rising light of the solstice. In Northern European countries, Germanic people honoured the solstice with the Yule Festival, at the origin of the long-burning Yule log tradition.

Nowadays, many modern pagans still attempt to observe the winter solstice in the traditional manner of the ancients. Every northern culture has some sort of individual way of celebrating the shortest day.

Furthermore, Winter solstice traditions have been mixed with customs of the holiday that have largely replaced the original celebrations, now becoming Christmas. Early church leaders tried to attract pagans to Christianity by adding Christian meaning to existing winter solstice festivals. In several languages people have traditionally compared the rebirth of the sun with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Do you celebrate the Winter Solstice and how?

 

Photosource : Stonehenge by John Barker, http://flic.kr/p/iw9nm, (CC BY 2.0)