Celebrating the Winter Solstice

In the north, on or about December 21st the sun reaches its lowest point on the horizon, making that day have the fewest hours of daylight.

The shortest day is called the winter solstice and is the beginning of the winter season. Over 750 years ago, the word solstice (comes from Latin – “sol” means “sun” and “sistere” means “to stop”) was used for the first time when the sun seemed to stop moving.

It takes 12 months for the earth to go around the sun. The tilt of the earth on its axis as it rotates determines how the sun’s rays hit the earth and what season it is.

Today, the northern part of the earth tilts away from the sun, and the sun is low in the sky and shining from its southern-most position. It is called the winter solstice, with the shortest day and the longest night. Every place within 400 miles of the North Pole has 24 hours of darkness.

Many cultures celebrate the shortest day – the early Romans placed evergreen wreaths on their doors because they stay green and it reminded them of the coming spring. Many people bring in mistletoe and holly because these plants survive the harsh winter and are symbols of life and bring strength to their families. Years ago, Europeans celebrated with apples and candles to represent harvest and light. In Sweden, a festival of lights celebrates the longer days. On St. Lucia’s Day, girls wear crowns of evergreen and candles – hoping to rekindle the sun’s fire.

For more than 5,000 years people have welcomed the winter solstice because it’s a new beginning. (We are headed toward spring.) In three months the sun shines on the middle of the earth and we celebrate the spring equinox. The days and nights are of equal length – when the north and south are the same distance from the sun.

Information for this blog post was taken from “The Shortest Day,” written by Wendy Pfeffer. I enjoy reading this story to my grandchildren.

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