Winter solstice

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Contents

Winter solstice
LHS sunstones.jpg
At the Lawrence Hall of Science in California, visitors observe sunset on the day of the winter solstice using the Sunstones II.
Also calledthe Longest Night
Observed byVarious cultures
TypeCultural, astronomical
SignificanceAstronomically marks the beginning of lengthening days and shortening nights
CelebrationsFestivals, spending time with loved ones, feasting, singing, dancing, fires
Dateabout December 21 (NH)
about June 21 (SH)
FrequencyTwice a year (once in the northern hemisphere, once in the southern hemisphere, six months apart)
Related to Winter festivals and the solstice

The winter solstice, also called the hibernal solstice, occurs when either of Earth's poles reaches its maximum tilt away from the Sun. This happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere (Northern and Southern). For that hemisphere, the winter solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky. [3] Either pole experiences continuous darkness or twilight around its winter solstice. The opposite event is the summer solstice.

The winter solstice occurs during the hemisphere's winter. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is the December solstice (usually 21st or 22nd December) and in the Southern Hemisphere, this is the June solstice (usually 20th or 21st of June). Although the winter solstice itself lasts only a moment, the term also refers to the day on which it occurs. The term midwinter is also used synonymously with the winter solstice, although it carries other meanings as well. Traditionally, in many temperate regions, the winter solstice is seen as the middle of winter; although today in some countries and calendars it is seen as the beginning of winter. Other names are the "extreme of winter" (Dongzhi), or the "shortest day".

Since prehistory, the winter solstice has been a significant time of year in many cultures, and has been marked by festivals and rituals. [4] It marked the symbolic death and rebirth of the Sun; [5] [6] [7] the gradual waning of daylight hours is reversed and begins to grow again. Some ancient monuments such as Newgrange and Stonehenge are aligned with the sunrise or sunset on the winter solstice.

History and cultural significance

Japanese Sun goddess Amaterasu emerging from a cave (by Kunisada) Amaterasu cave - large - 1856.jpeg
Japanese Sun goddess Amaterasu emerging from a cave (by Kunisada)
Winter solstice occurs in December for the northern hemisphere, and June for the southern hemisphere. Seasonearth.png
Winter solstice occurs in December for the northern hemisphere, and June for the southern hemisphere.

The solstice may have been a special moment of the annual cycle for some cultures even during Neolithic times. Astronomical events were often used to guide activities, such as the mating of animals, the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter reserves of food. Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from this.

This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland. The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise (Newgrange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). It is significant that at Stonehenge the Great Trilithon was oriented outwards from the middle of the monument, i.e. its smooth flat face was turned towards the midwinter Sun. [8]

The winter solstice was immensely important because the people were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as "the famine months". In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. [9] The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time. The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but at the beginning of the pagan day, which in many cultures fell on the previous eve.[ citation needed ]

Because the event was seen as the reversal of the Sun's ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common. [ citation needed ] In cultures which used cyclic calendars based on the winter solstice, the "year as reborn" was celebrated with reference to life-death-rebirth deities or "new beginnings" such as Hogmanay's redding, a New Year cleaning tradition. [ citation needed ] Also "reversal" is yet another frequent theme, as in Saturnalia's slave and master reversals.

Indian

Makara Sankranti, also known as Makaraa Sankrānti (Sanskrit: मकर संक्रांति) or Maghi, is a festival day in the Hindu calendar, in reference to deity Surya (sun). It is observed each year in January. [10] It marks the first day of Sun's transit into Makara (Capricorn), marking the end of the month with the winter solstice and the start of longer days. [10] [11] In India, this occasion, known as Ayan Parivartan (Sanskrit: अयन परिवर्तन), is celebrated by religious Hindus as a holy day, with Hindus performing customs such as bathing in holy rivers, giving alms and donations, praying to deities and doing other holy deeds.

Iranian

Iranian people celebrate the night of the Northern Hemisphere's winter solstice as, "Yalda night", which is known to be the "longest and darkest night of the year". Yalda night celebration, or as some call it "Shabe Chelleh" ("the 40th night"), is one of the oldest Iranian traditions that has been present in Persian culture from ancient times. In this night all the family gather together, usually at the house of the eldest, and celebrate it by eating, drinking and reciting poetry (esp. Hafez). Nuts, pomegranates and watermelons are particularly served during this festival.

East Asian

Sunlight directed through the 17 arches of Seventeen Arch Bridge, Summer Palace, Beijing around winter solstice Seventeen Arch Bridge at winter solstice sunset (20201222160213).jpg
Sunlight directed through the 17 arches of Seventeen Arch Bridge, Summer Palace, Beijing around winter solstice

In East Asia, the winter solstice has been celebrated as one of the Twenty-four Solar Terms, called Dongzhi (冬至) in Chinese. In Japan, in order not to catch cold in the winter, there is a custom to soak oneself in a yuzu hot bath (Japanese : 柚子湯 = Yuzuyu). [12]

Judaic

An Aggadic legend found in tractate Avodah Zarah 8a puts forth the talmudic hypothesis that Adam first established the tradition of fasting before the winter solstice, and rejoicing afterward, which festival later developed into the Roman Saturnalia and Kalendae.

When the First Man saw that the day was continuously shortening, he said, "Woe is me! Because I have sinned, the world darkens around me, and returns to formlessless and void. This is the death to which Heaven has sentenced me!" He decided to spend eight days in fasting and prayer. When he saw the winter solstice, and he saw that the day was continuously lengthening, he said, "It is the order of the world!" He went and feasted for eight days. The following year, he feasted for both. He established them in Heaven's name, but they established them in the name of idolatry [13]

Germanic

The pagan Scandinavian and Germanic people of northern Europe celebrate a winter holiday called Yule (also called Jul, Julblot, jólablót). The Heimskringla , written in the 13th century by the Icelander Snorri Sturluson, describes a Yule feast hosted by the Norwegian king Haakon the Good (c. 920–961). According to Snorri, the Christian Haakon had moved Yule from "midwinter" and aligned it with the Christian Christmas celebration. Historically, this has made some scholars believe that Yule originally was a sun festival on the winter solstice. Modern scholars generally do not believe this, as midwinter in medieval Iceland was a date about four weeks after the solstice. [14]

Roman cult of Sol

Sol Invictus ("The Unconquered Sun/Invincible Sun") was originally a Syrian god who was later adopted as the chief god of the Roman Empire under Emperor Aurelian. [15] His holiday is traditionally celebrated on December 25, as are several gods associated with the winter solstice in many pagan traditions. [16] It has been speculated to be the reason behind Christmas' proximity to the solstice. [17]

Observations

Although the instant of the solstice can be calculated, [18] direct observation of the solstice by amateurs is impossible because the Sun moves too slowly or appears to stand still (the meaning of "solstice"). However, by use of astronomical data tracking, the precise timing of its occurrence is now public knowledge. One cannot directly detect the precise instant of the solstice (by definition, one cannot observe that an object has stopped moving until one later observes that it has not moved further from the preceding spot, or that it has moved in the opposite direction). Furthermore, to be precise to a single day, one must be able to observe a change in azimuth or elevation less than or equal to about 1/60 of the angular diameter of the Sun. Observing that it occurred within a two-day period is easier, requiring an observation precision of only about 1/16 of the angular diameter of the Sun. Thus, many observations are of the day of the solstice rather than the instant. This is often done by observing sunrise and sunset or using an astronomically aligned instrument that allows a ray of light to be cast on a certain point around that time. The earliest sunset and latest sunrise dates differ from winter solstice, however, and these depend on latitude, due to the variation in the solar day throughout the year caused by the Earth's elliptical orbit (see earliest and latest sunrise and sunset).

Holidays celebrated on the winter solstice

See also

Related Research Articles

December Twelfth month in the Julian and Gregorian calendars

December is the twelfth and the final month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. It is also the last of seven months to have a length of 31 days.

A solstice is an event that occurs when the Sun appears to reach its most northerly or southerly excursion relative to the celestial equator on the celestial sphere. Two solstices occur annually, around June 21 and December 21. In many countries, the seasons of the year are determined by reference to the solstices and the equinoxes.

Wheel of the Year Annual cycle of seasonal festivals observed by many modern Pagans

The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals, observed by many modern Pagans, consisting of the year's chief solar events and the midpoints between them. While names for each festival vary among diverse pagan traditions, syncretic treatments often refer to the four solar events as "quarter days", with the four midpoint events as "cross-quarter days". Differing sects of modern Paganism also vary regarding the precise timing of each celebration, based on distinctions such as lunar phase and geographic hemisphere.

Yule Religious festival observed during winter

Yule is a festival historically observed by the Germanic peoples. Scholars have connected the original celebrations of Yule to the Wild Hunt, the god Odin, and the pagan Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht.

Saturnalia Ancient Roman festival in December

Saturnalia is an ancient Roman festival and holiday in honour of the god Saturn, held on 17 December of the Julian calendar and later expanded with festivities through to 23 December. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves as it was seen as a time of liberty for both slaves and freedmen alike. A common custom was the election of a "King of the Saturnalia", who would give orders to people, which were to be followed and preside over the merrymaking. The gifts exchanged were usually gag gifts or small figurines made of wax or pottery known as sigillaria. The poet Catullus called it "the best of days".

New Years Day Holiday that celebrates the new year

New Year's Day is a festival observed in most of the world on 1 January, the first day of the year in the modern Gregorian calendar. 1 January is also New Year's Day on the Julian calendar, but this is not the same day as the Gregorian one. Whilst most solar calendars begin the year regularly at or near the northern winter solstice, cultures that observe a lunisolar or lunar calendar celebrate their New Year's Day at less fixed points relative to the solar year.

Makar Sankranti Hindu festival that reveres Surya (sun god)

Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan or Maghi or simply Sankranti, also known in Bangladesh as Poush Sankranti, sam(n)kranti here means ‘transfer’, this day is considered as the transition day of Sun into the Capricorn. Now the sun moves northwards in the Hindu calendar, dedicated to the deity Surya (sun), many native festivals are organised all over Bhãrat. It is observed each year the day Sun enters the Capricorn zodiac which corresponds with the month of January as per the Gregorian calendar. It marks the first day of the sun's transit into Makara rashi (Capricorn).

Twilight Illumination of atmosphere when the Sun is not directly visible because it is below horizon

Twilight is the illumination of the lower atmosphere when the Sun is not directly visible because it is below the horizon. Twilight is produced by sunlight scattering in the upper atmosphere, illuminating the lower atmosphere so that Earth's surface is neither completely lit nor completely dark. The word twilight is also used to denote the periods of time when this illumination occurs.

Dongzhi Festival

The Dōngzhì Festival or Winter Solstice Festival is one of the most important Chinese festivals celebrated by the Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong Chinese, Overseas Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese and other East Asian-related people during the Dongzhi solar term, some day between December 21 to December 23.

Lohri Winter folk festival in India

Lohri is a popular winter folk festival celebrated primarily in the Indian Subcontinent. The significance and legends about the Lohri festival are many and these link the festival to the Punjab region. It is believed by many that the festival marks the passing of the winter solstice. Lohri marks the end of winter, and is a traditional welcome of longer days and the sun's journey to the northern hemisphere by Hindus and Sikhs in the northern region of the Indian subcontinent. It is observed the night before Makar Sankranti, also known as Maghi, and according to the solar part of the lunisolar Vikrami calendar and typically falls about the same date every year.

March equinox Equinox on the Earth when the Sun appears to leave the southern hemisphere and cross the celestial equator

The March equinox or northward equinox is the equinox on the Earth when the subsolar point appears to leave the Southern Hemisphere and cross the celestial equator, heading northward as seen from Earth. The March equinox is known as the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and as the autumnal equinox in the Southern.

Dongzhi festival is a traditional holiday of China that has a long history and specific customs. Dongzhi means the extreme of winter. The history of Dongzhi was arrived since the Han Dynasty and it became important until Tang and Song Dynasty, when they decided to officially made a day to worship their god and ancestors. In the present days, in some regions of China, people still gather around to eat a special meal or to visit their ancestral tombs.

Maghe Sankranti Nepalese festival

Maghe Sankranti is a Nepalese festival observed on the first of Magh in the Vikram Sambat (B.S) or Yele calendar bringing an end to the winter solstice containing month of Poush. Tharu people celebrate this particular day as new year. It is also regarded as the major government declared annual festival of the Magar community. Maghe Sankranti is similar to solstice festivals in other religious traditions.

The Sun in culture Depictions of the Sun in culture

The Sun, as the source of energy and light for life on Earth, has been a central object in culture and religion since prehistory. Ritual solar worship has given rise to solar deities in theistic traditions throughout the world, and solar symbolism is ubiquitous. Apart from its immediate connection to light and warmth, the Sun is also important in timekeeping as the main indicator of the day and the year.

Summer solstice Astronomical phenomenon

The summer solstice, also known as estival solstice or midsummer, occurs when one of Earth's poles has its maximum tilt toward the Sun. It happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere. For that hemisphere, the summer solstice is when the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky and is the day with the longest period of daylight. Within the Arctic circle or Antarctic circle, there is continuous daylight around the summer solstice. On the summer solstice, Earth's maximum axial tilt toward the Sun is 23.44°. Likewise, the Sun's declination from the celestial equator is 23.44°.

Yaldā Night Persian festival

Yaldā Night or Chelle Night is an Iranian Northern Hemisphere's winter solstice festival celebrated on the "longest and darkest night of the year." According to the calendar, this corresponds to the night of December 20/21 (±1) in the Gregorian calendar, and to the night between the last day of the ninth month (Azar) and the first day of the tenth month (Dey) of the Iranian solar calendar. The festival is celebrated in Iran and other historically Persian-influenced regions, including Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The longest and darkest night of the year is a time when friends and family gather together to eat, drink and read poetry and the Shahnameh until well after midnight. Fruits and nuts are eaten and pomegranates and watermelons are particularly significant. The red color in these fruits symbolizes the crimson hues of dawn and glow of life. The poems of Divan-e Hafez, which can be found in the bookcases of most Iranian families, are read or recited on various occasions such as this festival and Nowruz. Shab-e Yalda was officially added to Iran's List of National Treasures in a special ceremony in 2008.

Lists of holidays by various categorizations.

Nardoqan

Nardoqan or Nardugan was a Turkic holiday concept. Nowadays, it is most commonly used to refer to the winter solstice in many Central Asian and Siberian languages. It is also used as an equivalent name for the Christian holiday Christmas.

References

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  2. "Solstices and Equinoxes: 2001 to 2100". AstroPixels.com. February 20, 2018. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  3. Shipman, James; Wilson, Jerry D.; Todd, Aaron (2007). "Section 15.5". An Introduction to Physical Science (12th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 423. ISBN   978-0-618-92696-1.
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  8. Johnson, Anthony (2008). Solving Stonehenge: The New Key to an Ancient Enigma. Thames & Hudson. pp. 252–253. ISBN   978-0500051559.
  9. "History of Christmas". History.com. Retrieved January 2, 2017.
  10. 1 2 Kamal Kumar Tumuluru (2015). Hindu Prayers, Gods and Festivals. Partridge. p. 30. ISBN   978-1-4828-4707-9.
  11. James G. Lochtefeld (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A - M. Rosen Publishing Group. p. 411. ISBN   978-0-8239-2287-1.
  12. Goin’ Japanesque!: Japanese Winter Solstice Traditions; A Day for Kabocha and Yuzuyu
  13. "Avodah Zarah 8a:7".
  14. Nordberg, Andreas (2006). Jul, disting och förkyrklig tideräkning: Kalendrar och kalendariska riter i det förkristna Norden. Acta Academiae Regiae Gustavi Adolphi (in Swedish). 91. Kungl. Gustav Adolfs Akademien för svensk folkkultur. pp. 120–121. ISBN   91-85352-62-4. ISSN   0065-0897.
  15. Clauss, Manfred (2001). Die römischen Kaiser : 55 historische Portraits von Caesar bis Iustinian (in German). München: Beck. p. 250. ISBN   978-3-406-47288-6.
  16. Capoccia, Kathryn (2002). "Christmas Traditions" . Retrieved 2008-12-27.
  17. Bishop Jacob Bar-Salabi (cited in Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries, Ramsay MacMullen. Yale:1997, p. 155)
  18. Meeus, Jean (2009). Astronomical Algorithms (2nd English Edition with corrections as of August 10, 2009 ed.). Richmond, Virginia: Willmann-Bell, Inc. ISBN   978-0-943396-61-3.

Further reading