It’s the shortest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere. The winter solstice may not be the best day to try to watch your electric meter spin backwards, but it is an opportunity to reflect on the power of the sun even as our hemisphere tilts away from it.
“Solstice” means “sun stands still.” Since as long ago as anyone can unearth, people have marked the winter and summer solstices. It’s probably no accident that Christmas falls four days after the winter solstice–early Christians disputed the birth date of Jesus and ultimately settled on December 25 to coincide with (or replace) the Roman pagan solstice celebration. You know that halo around Jesus’s head–what does it look like? And how about the word “Yule”–probably derived from “wheel,” a Norse symbol depicting the sun’s rays.
Just about every culture reveres the sun by way of some kind of ritual worship. The Mayans built temples perfectly aligned with the sun’s rays and developed the first solar calendar on the basis of their careful solar observations. Modern northern Californians mark the season by fleeing, if they can, to the south. In our hi-tech age, it’s easy to lose our sense of awe for the sun and to forget that we rely on it for a lot more than powering our TVs.
Happy solstice, everyone!