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History of Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice relates to the Midwinter, the shortest day of the year when the axial tilt of the Earth is at its maximum from the Sun. The term has historical significance both in terms of ancient religion as well as astronomy. The word “solstice” is derived from Latin which means “Sun to stand still”. Astronomically, it is the beginning of the colder winter due to the earth's orbit tilting away from Sun since Neolithic times. Many events in those times were based on this day like animal mating, sowing the crops and keeping reserves for the winter till next harvest.

Winter Solstice is also mentioned in the mythologies and cultural traditions of many countries. In India, Makar Sakranthi is a big festival for offering prayers colliding with the same day when Sun ascends to Capricorn sign as per Vedic calendar. The Jewish celebrate festival of lights called “Hanukkah” on same day that is supposed to bring the long days. The Chinese celebrate the festival of “Dong Zhi” reflecting winter solstice and believed the yin energy of coldness and dark was at its most powerful point on this day.

Many of the archaeological sites of Bronze and Neolithic Age represent the winter solstice. Stonehenge in UK is such an example where the layout and primary axis is aligned in a way that points to the sunset of the solstice. New Grange in Ireland is another example that reflects the solstice sunrise. The solstice day was important for people in old times to prepare for the winter by slaughtering the cattle to get fresh meat and avoid feeding them. It was also the time to ferment the beer and wine to enjoy the drink post midwinter festival.

The Christmas too has its roots in winter solstice celebrations during the tradition of Saturnalia dedicated to God of agriculture, Saturn before Christianity was introduced in the 4th Century. The tradition of Yule log to keep evil spirits away and the ancient festival “Germanic Yule” is also linked to winter solstice.

Fri, 18 Jun 2010 10:59:01 +0000

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