Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice


The Winter Solstice, also known as Midwinter, occurs around December 21 or 22 each year in the Northern hemisphere, and June 20 or 21 in the Southern Hemisphere. It occurs on the shortest day or longest night of the year, often said to mark the beginning of a hemisphere's astronomical winter. The word solstice derives from Latin, Winter Solstice meaning Sun set still in winter. Worldwide, interpretation of the event varies from culture to culture, but most hold a recognition of rebirth, involving festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations. Many cultures celebrate or celebrated a holiday near the winter solstice; examples of these include Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years, Pongal and many other festivals of light. Depending on the shift of the calendar the event of the Winter solstice, occurs sometime between December 20 and 23 each year in the northern hemisphere, and between June 20 and 23 in the Southern Hemisphere, within either the shortest day or the longest night of the year, when the sun is at its greatest distance opposite the equatorial plane relative a polar hemisphere.

The solstice itself may have remained a special moment of the annual cycle of the year since neolithic times. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archeological sites like Stonehenge and New Grange in the British Isles. The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line framing the winter solstice sunrise (New Grange)and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). The winter solstice may have been immensely important because communities were not assured to live through the winter, and had to be prepared during the previous nine months. Starvation was common in winter between January to April, also known as the famine months. In temperate climes, 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 nearly the only time of year when a 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.


Christmas History

Christmas is an annual holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus. Christmas festivities often combine the commemoration of Jesus' birth with various secular customs, many of which have been influenced by earlier winter festivals, such as discussed above. The date of the celebration is traditional but it is not considered to be his actual date of birth.
A winter festival was traditionally the most popular festival of the year in many cultures. Reasons included less agricultural work needing to be done during the winter, as well as people expecting longer days and shorter nights after the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. In part, the Christmas celebration was created by the early Church in order to entice pagan Romans to convert to Christianity without losing their own winter celebrations. Most of the most important gods in the religions of Ishtar and Mithra had their birthdays on December 25.


Various traditions are considered to have been syncretised from winter festivals including the following: In Roman times, the best-known winter festival was Saturnalia, which was popular throughout Italy. Saturnalia was a time of general relaxation, feasting, merry-making, and a cessation of formal rules. It included the making and giving of small presents (Saturnalia et Sigillaricia), including small dolls for children and candles for adults. During Saturnalia, business was postponed and even slaves feasted. There was drinking, gambling, and singing, and even public nudity. It was the "best of days," according to the poet Catullus. Saturnalia honored the god Saturn and began on December 17. The festival gradually lengthened until the late Republican period, when it was seven days (December 17-24). In imperial times, Saturnalia was shortened to five days.



he Romans held a festival on December 25 called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the unconquered sun." The use of the title Sol Invictus allowed several solar deities to be worshipped collectively, including Elah-Gabal, a Syrian sun god; Sol, the god of Emperor Aurelian (AD 270-274); and Mithras, a soldiers' god of Persian origin. Emperor Elagabalus (218-222) introduced the festival, and it reached the height of its popularity under Aurelian, who promoted it as an empire-wide holiday.


December 25 was also considered to be the date of the winter solstice, which the Romans called bruma. It was therefore the day the Sun proved itself to be "unconquered" despite the shortening of daylight hours. (When Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar in 45 BC, December 25 was approximately the date of the solstice. In modern times, the solstice falls on December 21 or 22.) The Sol Invictus festival has a "strong claim on the responsibility" for the date of Christmas, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. Several early Christian writers connected the rebirth of the sun to the birth of Jesus (sun/Son). "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born," Cyprian wrote.

In most places around the world, Christmas Day is celebrated on December 25. Christmas Eve is the preceding day, December 24. In the United Kingdom and many countries of the Commonwealth, Boxing Day is the following day, December 26. In Catholic countries, Saint Stephen's Day or the Feast of St. Stephen is December 26. The Armenian Apostolic Church observes Christmas on January 6. Eastern Orthodox Churches that still use the Julian Calendar celebrate Christmas on the Julian version of 25 December, which is January 7 on the more widely used Gregorian calendar, because the two calendars are now 13 days apart. (Armenians who use the Julian Calendar celebrate Christmas on the Julian version of Jan. 6, which is Jan. 19 on the Gregorian calendar.)



Pagan Scandinavia celebrated a winter festival called Yule, held in the late December to early January period. Yule logs were lit to honor Thor, the god of thunder, with the belief that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year. Feasting would continue until the log burned out, which could take as many as twelve days.In pagan Germania (not to be confused with Germany), the equivalent holiday was the mid-winter night which was followed by 12 "wild nights", filled with eating, drinking and partying. As Northern Europe was the last part to Christianize, its pagan celebrations had a major influence on Christmas. Scandinavians still call Christmas Jul. In English, the Germanic word Yule is synonymous with Christmas, a usage first recorded in 900.



The word "Christmas" is a contraction of two words "Christ's mass" and is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. In early Greek versions of the New Testament, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ (Χριστός). Since the mid-16th century Χ, or the similar Roman letter X, was used as an abbreviation for Christ. Thus, Xmas is an abbreviation for Christmas.


After the conversion of Anglo-Saxons in England from their indigenous Anglo-Saxon polytheism (a form of Germanic paganism) in the very early 7th century, Christmas was called geol, which was the name of the native Germanic pre-Christian solstice festival that fell on that date. From geol, the current English word Yule is derived. Many customs associated with modern Christmas were derived from Germanic paganism.


The prominence of Christmas Day increased gradually after Charlemagne was crowned on Christmas Day in 800. Around the 12th century, the remnants of the former Saturnalian traditions of the Romans were transferred to the Twelve Days of Christmas (26 December - 6 January). Christmas during the Middle Ages was a public festival, incorporating ivy, holly, and other evergreens, as well as gift-giving.


Modern traditions have come to include the display of Nativity scenes, Holly and Christmas trees, the exchange of gifts and cards, and the arrival of Father Christmas or Santa Claus on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Popular Christmas themes include the promotion of goodwill and peace.(wikihistory)

1 comment:

Deez said...

I don't think of myself as Gothic but I am intrigued by people who do. I love the explanation of why Christmas is celebrated when it is. Many people do not realize that and I argue the point all the time. Great blog though...I'll be following on Facebook...

Deez
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