Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Solstice

December 21, 2009 at 10:49 am the Sun is reborn at Bear Ridge.

The winter solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. The sun appears at its lowest point in the sky, and its noontime elevation appears to be the same for several days before and after the solstice. Hence the origin of the word solstice, which comes from Latin solstitium, from sol, sun and -stitium, a stoppage. Following the winter solstice, the days begin to grow longer and the nights shorter.

In pre-historic times, winter was a very difficult time for Aboriginal people in the northern latitudes. The growing season had ended and the tribe had to live off of stored food and whatever animals they could catch. The people would be troubled as the life-giving sun sank lower in the sky each noon. They feared that it would eventually disappear and leave them in permanent darkness and extreme cold. After the winter solstice, they would have reason to celebrate as they saw the sun rising and strengthening once more. Although many months of cold weather remained before spring, they took heart that the return of the warm season was inevitable. The concept of birth and or death/rebirth became associated with the winter solstice. The Aboriginal people had no elaborate instruments to detect the solstice. But they were able to notice a slight elevation of the sun's path within a few days after the solstice -- perhaps by December 25th.

The winter solstice may have been immensely important because communities were not certain of living through the winter, and had to be prepared during the previous nine months. Starvation was common in winter between January and April.  Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost 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.

I used to live in Illinois and let me assure you that after three months of gray and ever darkening skies the rebirth of the sun is truly a time to celebrate. Although you will have another three months of gray dark skies you have made it past the mid point and from here on the days get lighter and longer with the promise of warm days ahead.

Living in the high desert I don't have quite the problem with gray overcast misery...most days are brilliant blue sun filled skies. Cold yes, but lots of wonderful sunshine. Unfortunately the day still ends at 4:30 with the cabin settling into the shadows by 3 in the afternoon. This becomes critically important when your house is solar powered. The dying sun impacts more than your mood it reduces peak charging from 10 hours of supercharged light in the summer to 4 hours of anemic sunshine mid winter.

The winter solstice is truly a time to celebrate for myself and anyone using the abundance of our sun to power their home. So how best to celebrate this rebirth of the sun. Well here are some some ancient festivals our distant ancestors partook in to celebrate the winter solstice.
ANCIENT EGYPT: The god-man/savior Osiris died and was entombed on December 21st. "At midnight, the priests emerged from an inner shrine crying 'The Virgin has brought forth! The light is waxing" and showing the image of a baby to the worshipers."

ANCIENT GREECE: The winter solstice ritual was called Lenaea, the Festival of the Wild Women. In very ancient times, a man representing the harvest god Dionysos was torn to pieces and eaten by a gang of women on this day. Later in the ritual, Dionysos would be reborn as a baby. By classical times, the human sacrifice had been replaced by the killing of a goat. The women's role had changed to that of funeral mourners and observers of the birth. Wine miracles were performed by the priests, in which priests would seal water or juice in a room overnight and the next day they would have turned into wine. The miracle was said to have been performed by Dionysus.

ANCIENT SAMI: The indigenous people of Finland, Sweden and Norway, worship Beiwe, the sun-goddess of fertility and sanity. She travels through the sky in a structure made of reindeer bones with her daughter, Beiwe-Neia, to herald back the greenery on which the reindeer feed. On the winter solstice, her worshipers sacrifice white female animals. They also cover their doorposts with butter so Beiwe can eat it and begin her journey once again.

ABORIGINAL AND NEOPAGANS: These groups see time as circular and repetitive, with lunar (monthly) and solar (yearly) cycles. Their rituals guarantee the continuity of nature's cycles, which traditional human societies depend on for their sustenance.

I kinda dig the ancient Greeks but I think the neighbors would complain and that butter on the doorpost would drive the dogs crazy.

So, I shall build a large and bountiful bonfire of freshly cut pinon and cedar maybe even some old sacred plywood. Around this roaring fire I will dance drinking my most rare ale and sampling my most tender meats. (bud light and spam) I will continue until the sun peaks shining its approving countenance upon me. (or I run out of scrap wood) Then without haste I hurry inside and run the microwave for 10 minutes...with nothing in that is a sacrifice.

Seriously if you are bone chilled and have not seen the sun for 2 months or are having to cut back on power hungry niceties this really is a day to celebrate.

Happy Solstice Everyone!


Mayberry said...

I lived in Great Lakes, IL for a year and a half (Navy). I can see why the suicide rate is higher in the winter up there! Down this way we have daylight 'till about 6 pm (5:39 is the official sunset time today). When we have daylight that is, it's been cold, cloudy, and wet. But the sun is out now, and we're supposed to hit 79 degrees by Wednesday, before we get clobbered back down into the 50s for Christmas.

Anonymous said...

I celebrate Christmas in honor of Christ's birth.

BigBear said...

Christmas was an OK solstice celebration until corporate America turned it into a money making enterprise to lure people into buying a bunch of crap they don't need with money they don't have.

Karl9x said...

I celebrate the Festivus for the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Christ was not born in December, period.

First, we know that shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks at the time of Jesus' birth (Luke 2:7-8). Shepherds were not in the fields during December.

Second, Jesus' parents came to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census (Luke 2:1-4). Such censuses were not taken in winter, when temperatures often dropped below freezing and roads were in poor condition. Taking a census under such conditions would have been self-defeating.

Since Elizabeth (John's mother) was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Jesus was conceived (Luke 1:24-36), we can determine the approximate time of year Jesus was born if we know when John was born. John's father, Zacharias, was a priest serving in the Jerusalem temple during the course of Abijah (Luke 1:5). Historical calculations indicate this course of service corresponded to June 13-19 in that year.
It was during this time of temple service that Zacharias learned that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a child (Luke 1:8-13). After he completed his service and traveled home, Elizabeth conceived (verses 23-24). Assuming John's conception took place near the end of June, adding nine months brings us to the end of March as the most likely time for John's birth. Adding another six months (the difference in ages between John and Jesus) brings us to the end of September as the likely time of Jesus' birth. Note that this also coincides with a well-documented astronomical phenomenon which occurred during September, 3BC. Note also that King Harod was dead by the time Jesus was supposedly born in December of year zero.

Christmas wasn't established by the Church as a holiday until 440AD.

More analysis from biblical scholars.

BigBear, very interesting how many of the ancient Egyptian ceremony details crop up in later Christian tradition associated with Jesus. Thanks for finding and sharing those with us.

Christophera said...

There was a lot more to it than just the change of seasons. The sunrise was used to index the circadian rhythm to create chronological accuracy in oral histories.
A Ann Arbor public access producer provides an intro to help people not of the area to understand better.

Anonymous said...

Good work Bigbear, but in response to fallout111
I have two nephews whom have birthdays that fall within 2 days of Christmas, we celibate their birthdays in February. So ...
It works out better for them and the family that way.

PS... no church ever said Jesus was actuary born on December 25th, penis skulls just try to disprove a non-fact out of simple hate, anger and ignorance. Its called a "straw man" argument.

Then stupid people repeat it.