The term “solstice” always sets off a slight frisson in me. It evokes ancient rites and rituals, the customs of people we barely remember and are hard-pressed to comprehend. No matter what your spiritual beliefs or lack thereof, it’s hard to ignore the passage of time as indicated by the sun, our main purveyor of life.
Today marks the winter solstice, the longest night and the shortest day of the year. On this day I tend to entertain an irrational fear that the sun may decide not to come back to us after all. That would spell disaster. Come back sun! Please come back!
There is ample evidence that ancient peoples took this day very seriously as well.
The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, and during this time all societal norms and conventions were sidelined. People ran wild. Masters served their slaves. I love the thought of that on so many levels.
Even in modern times, Druids gather at Stonehenge, and the sunrise lines up perfectly with the principle arch. Meanwhile, in Chaco Canyon, thousands of miles away, two daggers of sunlight will exactly bracket a spiral that was etched on a stone wall on Fajada Butte by some long-forgotten hand. (Sadly the average person will never see this again, as it’s protected from tourism for fear the rocks will shift and destroy the phenomena.)
In many parts of the world, farmers chose this day to slaughter their livestock so as not to have to feed them through the long, dark winter.
In Scandanavia, this was the time to burn the yule log, while on the other side of the world, the Mayans engaged in the flying pole dance, and the Incas were honoring the sun god.
The winter solstice is a day of death and fear and celebration and renewed hope. It is the official start of the winter season. Be that as it may, I was already over this cold, raw weather a month ago. Wishing you the fortitude to make it ‘til spring!