Winter Solstice is upon us!

by Anonymous on Dec. 23rd, 2007

Shorter days are going the way of the dinosaurs: More daylight ahead!
Shorter days are going the way of the dinosaurs: More daylight ahead!Courtesy Mark Ryan
Although December 22nd marked the first day of Winter, it also means the days will start to get longer as the tilt of the Earth (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway) begins to shift more toward the sun. That always makes me feel very merry.

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Gene's picture
Gene says:

Meteorlogically, winter begins December 1.

By temperature, the coldest quarter of the year begins December 4.

Culturally, winter begins the Monday after Thanksgiving.

The only thing that happens December 22 is the Sun reaches its southernmost position in the sky -- an event of no direct significance to either our lives or our weather.

posted on Mon, 12/24/2007 - 8:59am
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Balderdash! It has a psychological and symbolic significance for many. For one thing, the holiday of Christmas is linked to it. The Christian nativity is celebrated on December 25, which was the winter solstice when the Julian Calendar was established in 45 BC. If you don't think that has any direct significance to our lives, you haven't been to a church or a mall in the last couple of weeks or listened to the consumer spending reports on the news.

posted on Mon, 12/24/2007 - 10:16am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

The malls and churches are full because of Christmas, not because of the solstice. Christmas is not linked to the solstice so much as it is superimposed upon and supplanted it. While some Christmas traditions do have their roots in ancient observations of the solstice, we maintain these traditions because of Christmas, not because of the solstice.

Americans celebrate Independence Day; we do not celebrate the Fourth of July.

posted on Tue, 12/25/2007 - 12:38am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

People around the world have and will celebrate this time of year in the absence of Christmas for a long time. When you get right down to it, I think we put up lights for the dark (and the coming light), not for Jesus. Everybody's favorite parts of Christmas are old and weird and related to the season, not to Christmas. Like trees, wreaths, holly, all that stuff.

But I suppose it all depends on who you ask. Some people love their Jesus, and some people have spent too much time around crystals and things.

And we do celebrate the Fourth of July! What kind of holiday would independence day be if it weren't in the middle of the summer? Something very different, and, I imagine, less. And not to rag on American ignorance, but I wouldn't be entirely surprised if more people in this country simply understood the holiday as the 4th, and not as Independence Day.

posted on Wed, 12/26/2007 - 3:39pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

I do not deny that many people around the world observe the solstice. I was responding to MDR who claimed that Christmas is a solstice celebration. It is not, and it is rather offensive to Christians to suggest that it is.

Listen carefully to what I am saying: Americans do not celebrate the fourth of July. Nor do we celebrate the third or the fifth. Nor do we celebrate the fourth of April or the fourth of October. We celebrate the anniversary of our independence. I have no doubt that if we declared our independence in February that our celebrations would be different. But -- and here is the crucial point -- those celebrations would be in February. They would not be in July. The fourth day of the seventh month has no particular signifigance. The anniversary of an important event (independence, nativity, whatever) does.

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 11:11am
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Superimposed, linked, what's the difference? Without the basis of the winter solstice (and all it's rituals), there'd be no Christmas as we know it today.

A quick check of all the calendars in my house shows December 22nd marked as either the first day of winter or the solstice. It obviously still has some significance to some folks, otherwise why make note of it?

posted on Wed, 12/26/2007 - 1:50pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

All the difference in the world. The early Church fathers placed Christmas on December 25 specifically to supplant and replace pagan solstice celebrations. And they were pretty effective, too. For the past month, people have been sending Christmas cards, singing Christmas carols, buying Christmas presents. The number of solstice cards, solstice carols and solstice presents is vanishingly small.

It's my understanding -- though I could be mistaken -- that if the Gospels are taken literally, then the nativity probably occured in summer, as that is the time of year shepards are most likely to be watching their flocks overnight. And yes, if Christmas was celebrated in summer, it would be different. In fact, it does fall in summer in Australia. But again, they are celebrating Christmas, a holiday that happens to fall near the summer solstice. They are not celebrating the solstice itself.

Many holidays are tied to astronomical events. In the days before widespread use of accurate calendars, astronomical events were the best way to figure out where you were in the year. But -- and I cannot stress this enough -- in most cultures today, holidays celebrate religious events or social events, not astronomical events.

Calendars are full of all sorts of trivia. Mine list every phase of the moon for the entire year. I can't tell you how often that has come in handy -- mainly because numbers simply don't go that low.

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 11:29am
Jesse's picture
Jesse says:

yes i agree totally. actually the whole history of Christmas was a made up event to control the masses. Constatine was a genius in all sorts of ways. he could actually be president today with how much he was able to control other human beings with fear and religion.

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 11:52am
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Some people have been sending "holiday" cards, singing "holiday carols" and buying "holiday presents", too.

The fact remains that Christmas is a celebration derived from a mix of the Christian nativity and pagan midwinter (solstice) celebrations. Many of the customs common today originated during England's Victoria Era.

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 11:56am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

You don't say? And tell me, what "holiday" are these people celebrating? The holiday season of Thanksgiving-Hanukkah-Christmas-New Years? A secular holiday season of peace / love / good will derived from these? Or are they actually celebrating the winter solstice? I think you know the answer.

I have been accused of having a tremendous grasp of the obvious. Rarely has it come in more useful. Modern, Western, industrialized cultures do not tell time by the sun, moon, or other celstial events. And while many of our holidays are rooted in such phenomena, we no longer celebrate celstial events.

The pertinent fact remains: we have many holiday traditions. Some of them derive from Victorian England; some of the from pagan Germany; some from other places and other times. None of them are used by us today in recognition of the Sun reaching its lowest point in the sky.

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 2:35pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What about the people that go to Stonehenge to Celebrate every year?

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 3:19pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

You are right -- I should not have used an unqualified "we" in my statement. What I meant to say, and what I hope was clear, is that, while some individuals do indeed observe the solstice and other celestial events, we as a culture do not.

I apologize for my misstatement, and any confusion it may have caused.

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 10:33pm
Amphlet's picture
Amphlet says:

You know, jesus was actually born in april. The reason people know this is because mary and joseph were in bethlahem to pay taxes and taxes happen now the same time they happend then (we still use the roman calendar). Just a little fact to ponder. The reason "christmas" happens in december is because the christian church made that holiday in hopes that the pagans would switch to christianity because they were on the same day.

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 12:21pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

This seems fanciful. First of all, there's nothing in the Roman calendar requiring taxes to be collected in any particular month. Second, taxes have not always been collected in April. US income tax was originally due on March 1 or March 15, and only became April 15 in 1955. According to this site, it appears the dates in England are January 31 and July 31. In Australia, it appears to be October 31. In Japan, it appears to be March 15. Perhaps Buzz readers from other countries can add to this list?

posted on Fri, 12/28/2007 - 8:20am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Weird I never new that. Do you Like it in December?

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 1:47pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I like December!!!

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 2:31pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

WINTER IS FUN!

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 2:36pm
I's picture
I says:

I think summer is better

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 3:57pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I like December because it's cold and goffy

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 2:58pm
Saera's picture
Saera says:

Walking in a winter wonderland, nein?

How was Jesus Born in April? What proof do people have? Are these just scientific guesses or physical proof?

More or less, who actually has proof Jesus existed, I mean we have the bible, but, still... people could have fabricateld the evidence.

xD
Happy day!

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 3:12pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

There are other sources indicating that Jesus really existed.

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 10:38pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Every year my family has a "Longest Night" party to celebrate the fact that the days will soon be getting longer again. Lots of people come, and we have a bonfire and eat chili. It's fun.

It's not exactly a national holiday, but it's not unheard of for people to recognize the event.

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 3:24pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

what a wonderful idea. hats off to your parents. sent from your friendly neighbour in canada

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 3:48pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

I wish everyone were Canadian.

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 6:07pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

My point exactly -- not a national holiday. Glad you have found a way to turn it into a fun family event!

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 10:41pm
wren's picture
wren says:

Actually Gene, while the culture as a whole may not be celebrating the celestial events, there are plenty of people in modern society who still do, myself included! Every year a group of get together to celebrate that it's the Winter Solstice, or the Vernal Equinox, the Summer Solstice, or the Autumnal Equinox, among others. There are thousands of people in the Twin Cities alone who still reconize the importance of celestial events - including the simple phases of the moon!

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 9:19pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Yes, I got carried away with my rhetoric. You are right -- while some individuals do observe these events, the culture as a whole takes no notice of them. They are, as I noted originally, of no direct meaning or significance to modern life.

(I prefer cross-quarter days myself, but that's just me.)

posted on Thu, 12/27/2007 - 10:45pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Solstice a Cause for Celebration Since Ancient Times

posted on Fri, 12/28/2007 - 10:58am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

But not any more. The article explains how Christmas was placed in late December specifically to supplant / replace / eradicate celebration of the solstice itself.

posted on Fri, 12/28/2007 - 12:45pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Gene -- where does it say or even imply that Christmas was used "specifically to supplant/replace/eradicate" solstice? The overly strong tone you use seems an attempt to infuse meaning into the article that just isn't there.

The author does use phrases like "co-mingled with traditional observances”, and "the date…became sort of available for conversion to the observance of Christmas", and “Christian leaders...endeavored to attract pagans to their faith by adding Christian meaning to these existing festivals."

None of that gives me the strong impression you seemed to have derived from it.

On the contrary, I think the whole point of the article was about how the celebration of the solstice still goes on to this day (in some form or another) and is still significant to many.

posted on Fri, 12/28/2007 - 5:09pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

But the new celebration [i.e. moving Christmas from January 6 to December 25] soon became co-mingled with traditional observances of the solstice.

"As the Christmas celebration moved west," Yeide said "the date that had traditionally been used to celebrate the winter solstice became sort of available for conversion to the observance of Christmas."

Christian leaders of the time endeavored to attract pagans to their faith by adding Christian meaning to these existing festivals.

Sounds exactly like "supplant / replace / eradicate" to me. (Things become available for new use when the old use become irrelevant, no?)

Also:

Modern pagans attempt to observe the solstice in the traditional manner of the ancients. … "These people do celebrate the solstice itself."

If "these people" celebrate the solstice itself, then everyone else does not.

According to this site, there are approximately 433,000 practicing pagans in the US (estimate as of 2004). As noted in the article, these folks celebrate the solstice on December 22nd. However, almost twice as many Americans (about 820,000) celebrate December 22nd because it's their birthday! In other words, only about half as many people celebrate the solstice as celebrate any random day for personal reasons. So, unless you are willing to also make April 14 and March 11 national holidays (my birthday and my girlfriend's), then the argument that the solstice has great cultural significance holds no water.

The solstice -- the position of the sun in the sky -- is not significant to modern industrialized cultures and is not celebrated. Other holidays occur at this time of year, but Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. do not celebrate the position of the sun in the sky, but rather commemorate other things. Indeed, as has been pointed out numerous times (including the article you cite), Christmas was moved to December 25th specifically to get pagan Romans to stop celebrating the solstice and start celebrating the nativity. Seems to have worked exceptionally well.

posted on Sat, 12/29/2007 - 12:48pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Exactly? That’s absurd. The words you use are practically opposite in meaning to the words and phrases used by the author of the National Geographic article. Supplant/replace/eradicate in no way have the same meaning as adding, or co-mingling [sic]. And as I said, your use of them infuses a meaning into the article that just isn’t there.

I may send you dictionary or thesaurus as a gift next Winter Solstice.

posted on Sat, 12/29/2007 - 4:37pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Read it again, and this time, bear in mind that "supplant / replace / eradicate" is precisely what happened. Also, notice the author's use of past tense. The author explains what the Church did in the 4th Century, as it took its first steps to replace paganism with Christianity. True, he does not follow the story any further, but it is well-established that within a couple of centuries, solstice celebrations had all but died out in the West.

I stand by my original assessment: "The article explains how Christmas was placed in late December specifically to supplant / replace / eradicate celebration of the solstice itself." The implication is obvious to anyone not willingly trying to avoid seeing it. The only absurdity here is the claim that the solstice is of any great meaning or significance to Western culture today. If it is, then why did we not celebrate it last week?

posted on Sat, 12/29/2007 - 8:29pm
Geen's picture
Geen says:

Read it again! Read it again!

posted on Sat, 12/29/2007 - 9:56pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Christmas is in december because the ancient romans celibrated the solctices, so we made christmas in december. Jesus was actually probably born in May

posted on Fri, 12/28/2007 - 1:54pm
C3's picture
C3 says:

It's snowing in St. Paul, MN today, 12/28/07. Keep this for your almanac.

posted on Fri, 12/28/2007 - 5:30pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Happy New Year!

posted on Sat, 12/29/2007 - 4:38pm

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