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Winter Solstice

Some of you may know what the winter solstice is but for those who don't know here is some info. That is the theme for this years event.

Winter solstice is an astronomical phenomenon marking the shortest day and the longest night of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere this is the December solstice and in the Southern Hemisphere this is the June solstice.

The axial tilt of Earth and gyroscopic effects of its daily rotation mean that the two opposite points in the sky to which the Earth's axis of rotation points change very slowly (making a complete circle approximately every 26,000 years). As the Earth follows its orbit around the Sun, the polar hemisphere that faced away from the Sun, experiencing winter, will, in half a year, face towards the Sun and experience summer. This is because the two hemispheres face opposite directions along Earth's axis, and so as one polar hemisphere experiences winter, the other experiences summer.

More evident from high latitudes, a hemisphere's winter solstice occurs on the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun's daily maximum elevation in the sky is at its lowest. The winter solstice itself lasts only a moment in time, so other terms are used for the day on which it occurs, such as "midwinter", or the "shortest day". It is often considered the "extreme of winter" (Dongzhi in the Chinese calendar).

In meteorology, winter in the Northern Hemisphere spans the entire period of December through February. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days. 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).

Worldwide, interpretation of the event has varied across cultures, but many have held a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time.

In astronomy, the winter solstice is the moment when the earth is at a point in its orbit where one hemisphere is most inclined away from the sun. This causes the sun to appear at its farthest below the celestial equator when viewed from earth. Solstice is a Latin borrowing and means "sun stand", referring to the appearance that the sun's noontime elevation change stops its progress, either northerly or southerly. The day of the winter solstice is the shortest day and the longest night of the year.

In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice usually falls on December 21/December 22, which is the southern hemisphere's summer solstice. At this time, the sun appears over the Tropic of Capricorn, roughly 23.5 degrees South of the earth's equator. In the southern hemisphere, winter solstice falls on June 21/June 22, which is the northern hemisphere's summer solstice. At this time, the sun appears over the Tropic of Cancer.

Since the winter solstice, summer solstice, vernal equinox, and autumnal equinox were probably observed for the first time by people in the northern hemisphere, these naming conventions originally corresponded to the northern hemisphere's seasons. In most reckonings, the winter solstice is midwinter. In Ireland's calendar, the solstices and equinoxes all occur at about midpoint in each season. For example, winter begins on November 1, and ends on January 31.

No one is really sure how long ago humans recognized the winter solstice and began heralding it as a turning point -- the day that marks the return of the sun to the northern hemisphere.

Many cultures the world over perform solstice ceremonies. At their root -- an ancient fear that the failing light would never return unless humans intervened with anxious vigil or antic celebration. Most ancient cultures built Astronomical Observatories - tombs, temples, cairns among others, to align with the solstices and equinoxes.

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. 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.

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 and, 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. Also "reversal" is yet another frequent theme, as in Saturnalia's slave and master reversals.

There's much new scholarship about Neolithic peoples and their amazing culture. For example, it now looks as though writing is much more ancient than we earlier thought -- as much as 10,000 years old. Neolithic peoples were the first farmers. Their lives were intimately tied to the seasons and the cycle of harvest - which would mean that they were attuned to the movement of celestial objects and seasons. Scholars have not as yet found proof, though, that these peoples had the skill to pinpoint a celestial event like a solstice. Earliest markers of time, found from these ancient peoples are notches carved into bone that appear to count the cycles of the moon. But perhaps they watched the movement of the sun as well as the moon, and perhaps they celebrated it -- with fertility rites, with fire festivals, with offerings and prayers to their gods and goddesses.

If you guys want to read more here is the rest on this website were I got this info from.

http://www.crystalinks.com/wintersolstice.html

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