The winter solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year when the sun appears at noontime to be at its lowest altitude above the horizon of the year. It occurs around December 20-22 in the Northern Hemisphere and around June 20-22 in the Southern Hemisphere.
The winter solstice marks the moment when Sun is at its weakest and can only grow stronger as time progresses until it reaches its peak strength at the summer solstice and begins its gradual decline.
Ancient Significance of the Winter Solstice
There is quite a body of evidence to suggest that the winter solstice was an important annual event in the lives of ancient people. Stonehenge (whose construction began in the 2000s BCE) appears to be aligned to the sunset on the winter solstice while Newgrange (Built in the 3000s BCE) is arranged so that the light from the sunrise on the morning of the winter solstice floods the inner chamber.
Folkloric and archaeological evidence as well as the historic record suggests that the Winter Solstice was a time of religious celebration for many pre-Christian cultures, often celebrating the return of the light as the return, triumph, birth or rebirth of a God.
Winter Solstice Traditions
The winter solstice marks the turning point of the year and the promise that winter will be over. Eventually.
Most traditions, regardless of culture, involve the gathering of families and friends and potluck suppers. That is, the sharing of food stores. Most of the traditional foods you will see at these gatherings are those that are easily preserved, such as nuts, potatoes, apples, squashes, smoked meats, dried fruits, highly spiced breads and cakes, and alcoholic beverages.
Visiting friends and neighbors, often singing songs, is also a tradition seen during the winter solstice across many cultures. Food, alcoholic beverages, or small gifts may be given to or brought by visitors.
Midwinter traditions often include the exchange of gifts. In agrarian societies, gifts may be given to those who had helped you throughout the year. Today, gifts are exchanged between family members, co-workers and friends. This is also a popular time to give gifts to strangers in the form of charitable donations.
Traditional decorations for winter solstice festivals often include light as a way of inviting the sun indoors. Candles, fires, reflective paper, sparkly glass decorations, strings of lights, tree lighting ceremonies are all reflections of this concept. (See the individual festival articles listen below for more details.)
Plants, especially those of the evergreen variety often feature decor for Winter Solstice festivals.
Winter Solstice Magick
The energy of the winter solstice supports magick related to turning points, changes, new beginnings, home and hearth, family relationships, world peace, and personal renewal. It is also a good time for any magic related to the Sun. The moment of sunrise is the best time.
Winter Solstice Divination
On the evening of the solstice, place two mirrors so that they reflect two candles and each other. Search for the seventh reflection in the mirror. There you will see the reflection of your one true love.
Winter Solstice Festivals
- The Beiwe Festival is celebrated by the Sámi people of Finland
- Brumalia, Saturnalia and Sol Invictus were celebrated in Rome and may have evolved from Kronia and Lenæa in ancient Greece
- The Dongzhi Festival is still celebrated in China and throughout East Asia
- Inti Raymi was celebrated by the Incans
- Junkanoo is a syncretic West African festival that spread with slavery to the American South and the Caribbean.
- Karachun, Rozhanitsa Feast and Koleda are ancient Slavic festivals
- The Feast of Lucia is celebrated in Scandinavia
- Anglo-Saxon paganism celebrates Mōdraniht
- Mummer’s Day is celebrated among Cornish Celts
- The Irish Celtic midwinter festival is Meán Geimhridh
- Some modern Druids celebrate Alban Arthan
- Şewy Yelda is the Kurdish midwinter festival
- The Zuni and Hopi of North America celebrate Soyal
- The Germanic peoples have celebrated Yule for centuries.
- Ziemassvētki is celebrated in Latvia and the Baltic States.
- Yaldā is the Persian, festival of the birth of Mithra
- Heliogenna is the modern Hellenismos festival of the Winter Solstice.
Winter Solstice Dates
|Year||Northern Hemisphere||Southern Hemisphere|
|2022||December 21||June 21|
|2023||December 21||June 21|
|2024||December 21||June 20|
|2025||December 21||June 20|
|2026||December 21||June 21|
Image Credit gdizerega (CC0), Pixabay