Today, December 21, 2020, marks the winter solstice, the astronomical end of fall and the beginning of winter in our Northern Hemisphere.
It’s that day of the year when we see fewest hours of daylight. This happens when the Earth’s North Pole is tilted farthest from the Sun. After Winter Solstice, days start becoming longer (Yay! That means more sunlight) and nights shorter for people in the Northern Hemisphere and it’s just the reverse in the Southern Hemisphere. It also marks the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. The winter solstice officially occurred at 5:03 a.m. Monday. From now until the summer solstice in June, we will be gaining daylight each week.
In ancient times, people across the world would celebrate the solstice because with it brought longer days and more sun. They did this by lighting candles, burning yule logs, and gathering together around a bonfire. It’s also an ancient pagan holiday known for rituals and traditions. Some of those traditions have influenced holidays that we celebrate now, such as Christmas and Hanukkah.
While we don’t know how long people have been celebrating the solstice, we know that ancient cultures built huge stone structures designed to align perfectly with the sun at specific times, such as dawn or high noon. One good example of this is Stonehenge in England. Still today, large number of people gather together to watch the sunrise through the stones on the day of the solstice. Other traditions around the world include; dancing, festivals, bonfires, family gatherings, cooking meals, poetry readings, and dancing. Many cultures celebrate this time as a rebirth.
Fun Fact: On the day of the solstice, stand outside at noon and look at your shadow. It’s the longest shadow that you’ll cast all year! Do this again on the day of the summer solstice and you’ll see almost no shadow.
This year, the day is extra special as it coincides with a stunning celestial event! Jupiter and Saturn will align in the night sky on Dec. 21 in an event astronomers call the “great conjunction“, marking the planets’ closest encounter in nearly 400 years! The two planets have slowly been moving closer to each other over the past couple of weeks. A conjunction occurs when the planets appear incredibly close to one another, appearing as a bright light in the sky. In reality, they are still hundreds of miles apart in space.
Since this year’s great conjunction also falls on the first day of winter, some have referred to the planetary alignment as forming a “Christmas Star,” in reference to the Star of Bethlehem, given the event falls only a few days before Christmas.
This rare coincidence of the Winter Solstice AND the Great Conjunction is something to experience! To view this incredible event, point your gaze towards the southwest sky about 45 minutes after sunset. During this time, take a moment to give thanks, gather around a bonfire with your friends, family and community, and perhaps set some intentions for the upcoming year.
Happy Winter Solstice and have a healthy holiday season!
How do you plan to celebrate the solstice? Let me know in the comments…