Winter Solstice
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WINTER SOLSTICE

Though the purpose of the enigmatic English structure Stonehenge remains unknown, this 5,000-year-old monument has a famously special relationship with the solstices. On the summer solstice, the complex’s Heel Stone, which stands outside Stonehenge’s main circle, lines up with the rising sun.

In Egypt, the Great Pyramids at Giza appear to be aligned with the sun as well. When viewed from the Sphinx, the sun sets between the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre during the summer solstice—though it remains unclear precisely how the ancient Egyptians oriented it this way.

Many cultures have found unique ways to mark the summer solstice. The traditional Scandinavian holiday of Midsummer welcomes it with maypole dancing, drinking, and romance. During the Slavic holiday of Ivan Kupala, people wear floral wreaths and dance around bonfires, while some plucky souls jump over the fires as a way of ensuring good luck and health. In a more modern tradition, the people of Fairbanks, Alaska, swing in the summer solstice with a nighttime baseball game to celebrate the fact that they can get up to 22.5 hours of daylight in the summer. The Midnight Sun Game has been played 115 times now since 1906.

The winter solstice has had its share of celebrations, too. On June 24, in time with the Southern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, the Inca Empire celebrated Inti Raymi, a festival that honored the Inca religion’s powerful sun god Inti and marked the Inca new year. The festival is still celebrated throughout the Andes, and since 1944, a reconstruction of Inti Raymi has been staged in Cusco, Peru, less than two miles from its Inca Empire home. Ancient Romans celebrated the winter solstice with Saturnalia, a seven-day festival that involved giving presents, decorating houses with plants, and lighting candles. And Iranians celebrate Yalda in December. The festival—a mainstay since Zoroastrianism was Iran’s dominant religion—traditionally honors the birth of Mithra, the ancient Persian goddess of light.
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Though the purpose of the enigmatic English structure Stonehenge remains unknown, this 5,000-year-old monument has a famously special relationship with the solstices. On the summer solstice, the complex’s Heel Stone, which stands outside Stonehenge’s main circle, lines up with the rising sun.

In Egypt, the Great Pyramids at Giza appear to be aligned with the sun as well. When viewed from the Sphinx, the sun sets between the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre during the summer solstice—though it remains unclear precisely how the ancient Egyptians oriented it this way.

Many cultures have found unique ways to mark the summer solstice. The traditional Scandinavian holiday of Midsummer welcomes it with maypole dancing, drinking, and romance. During the Slavic holiday of Ivan Kupala, people wear floral wreaths and dance around bonfires, while some plucky souls jump over the fires as a way of ensuring good luck and health. In a more modern tradition, the people of Fairbanks, Alaska, swing in the summer solstice with a nighttime baseball game to celebrate the fact that they can get up to 22.5 hours of daylight in the summer. The Midnight Sun Game has been played 115 times now since 1906.

The winter solstice has had its share of celebrations, too. On June 24, in time with the Southern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, the Inca Empire celebrated Inti Raymi, a festival that honored the Inca religion’s powerful sun god Inti and marked the Inca new year. The festival is still celebrated throughout the Andes, and since 1944, a reconstruction of Inti Raymi has been staged in Cusco, Peru, less than two miles from its Inca Empire home. Ancient Romans celebrated the winter solstice with Saturnalia, a seven-day festival that involved giving presents, decorating houses with plants, and lighting candles. And Iranians celebrate Yalda in December. The festival—a mainstay since Zoroastrianism was Iran’s dominant religion—traditionally honors the birth of Mithra, the ancient Persian goddess of light.
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.

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.

Germanic: The pagan Scandinavian and Germanic people of northern Europe celebrated 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.[12]

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.[13] His holiday is traditionally celebrated on December 25, as are several gods associated with the winter solstice in many pagan traditions.[14] It has been speculated to be the reason behind Christmas' proximity to the solstice.[15]

East Asian: 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 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).[16]
Winter brings the frozen earth, dying crops, short days and long, dark cold nights. Little thrives in the winter months and survival was hard in northern countries of Europe. The winter solstice became the most important time of the year as people created elaborate rituals to ensure that the Sun would return and bring back the warmth necessary to maintain life. The long, dark night of the winter solstice, the turning point of the Sun’s journey, was seen as the moment the light was reborn and the new year began and came to symbolise, birth, death and rebirth.

Perhaps the most prominent legend to have survived is that of the Norse Goddess Frigga. Frigga gave birth to her son ‘the young sun’ Baldur. This was symbolised as giving birth to the light in darkness and in Northern Europe the longest night is also known as the Mothers night. Throughout the world gods and goddesses of light were born during the winter solstice bringing hope and a promise of the return of the warmth and light of the Sun in the New Year.

Horas was born to Egyptian goddess Isis, Mithras the unconquered Sun of Persia and Amaterasu the Japanese Sun Goddess were born and the birth of Lucia goddess of light is celebrated across Europe at this time.

Hestia (or Roman goddess Vesta) doused and then relight the hearth fires and in Scotland Wish Night is when wishes are at their most powerful time in the year. On the night of the solstice Rhiannon the Celtic Mare goddess rides through the dreams of the people, helping to make their dreams come true.
Soyal is the winter solstice celebration of the Hopi Indians of northern Arizona. Ceremonies and rituals include purification, dancing, and sometimes gift-giving. At the time of the solstice, Hopi welcome the kachinas, protective spirits from the mountains. Prayer sticks are crafted and used for various blessings and other rituals.

Mithras, ancient Persian god of light. Statue of Mithras, adopted into the Roman pantheon in the 1st c. BC, shown wearing the Phrygian cap. In the Louvre Museum, Paris, France. Confirm dimensions, materials, date.

The Persian festival Yalda, or Shab-e Yalda is a celebration of the winter solstice in Iran that started in ancient times. It marks the last day of the Persian month of Azar. Yalda is viewed traditionally as the victory of light over dark, and the birthday of the sun god Mithra. Families celebrate together with special foods like nuts and pomegranates and some stay awake all night long to welcome the morning sun.

Inti Raymi: This solstice celebration comes in June rather than December. But for Peru it is a winter solstice, and this Incan celebration is in honor of the Sun god. Originally celebrated by the Inca before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, the festivities included feasts and sacrifices, of animals or possibly even children. The Spaniards banned the holiday, but it was revived (with mock sacrifices instead of real ones) in the 20th century and is still celebrated today.

Saturnalia: The ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia is perhaps the most closely linked with the modern celebration of Christmas. This festival happened around the time of the winter solstice and celebrated the end of the planting season. There were games and feasts and gift-giving for several days, and social order was inverted—slaves did not work and were briefly treated as equals.

Midwinter in Antarctica: Even Antarctica gets its share of solstice celebration, thanks to the researchers staying there over the long, dangerously cold season. While those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are enjoying the most daylight hours, in the Southern Hemisphere they are celebrating Midwinter. Festivities include special meals, films, and sometimes even handmade gifts.

St. Lucia’s Day is a festival of lights celebrated in Scandinavia around the time of the winter solstice. Although it is now meant to honor St. Lucia, a Christian martyr, it has been incorporated with earlier Norse solstice traditions, such as lighting fires to ward off spirits during the longest night. Girls dress up in white gowns with red sashes and wear wreaths of candles on their heads in honor of St. Lucia.

Dong Zhi, the “arrival of winter,” is an important festival in China. It is a time for family to get together and celebrate the year they have had. Based on the traditional Chinese celestial calendar, the holiday generally falls between the 21st and 23rd of December. It is thought to have started as an end-of-harvest festival, with workers returning from the fields and enjoying the fruits of their labors with family. Special foods, such as tang yuan (glutinous rice balls), are enjoyed
The Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth on December 21, 1620, to found a society that would allow them to worship freely. On the same day in 1898, Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium, ushering in an atomic age. And on December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 spacecraft launched, becoming the first crewed moon mission.
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