The Winter Solstice happened early this morning at 00:22 Universal Time on December 21, 2006. It happens the same time for everyone, although our clocks say different things.
The solstice is unique among days of the year — the time of the longest night and the shortest day. The dark triumphs but only briefly. For the solstice is also a turning point. From now on (until the summer solstice), the nights grow shorter and the days grow longer, the dark wanes and the Sun waxes in power.
December 25th was the date of the winter solstice in the calendar Julius Caesar devised for Rome in 46BC. Today the winter solstice usually occurs on December 21st. Although Caesar used a 365 1/4 day year, a year is actually a little shorter, and this made the solstice occur a little earlier over the years. There was a discrepancy of 1 day in 128 years.
In the early Church, some church leaders opposed the idea of a birth celebration, and there is no date of Jesus’ birth in the Bible. Origen (c.185-c.254) preached that it would be wrong to honor Christ in the same way Pharaoh and Herod were honored. Birthdays were for pagan gods. Christ’s birth, if observed at all, was usually lumped in with Epiphany (January 6), one of the church’s earliest established feasts.
Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the empire’s favored religion, sometime around 300 AD. However, Roman pagans celebrated Saturnalia that celebrated Natalis Solis Invincti, or “Birthday of the Invincible Sun God,” on the winter solstice. They were celebrating the Sun’s victory over the battle of night and day.
Constantine set the date of Jesus’ birth to December 25 in an attempt to eclipse Natalis Solis Invincti. A mid-fourth century church theologian later wrote “We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it.”
Both the Sun worshipers and the Christians saw the solstice/birthday as a transition from darkness to light. Christ conquered the darkness, as did the Sun. The theme was similar, and the traditions of one blended well with the other.
Winter Solstice and Scared Sites
Maeshowe is known as one of Scottland’s greatest pre-historic monuments and is perfectly aligned with the sunset of Winter Solstice Day. As the midwinter sun slips below the horizon, its last rays shine directly through Maeshowe’s entrance passage to illuminate the rear wall of the central chamber. One other place shares this phenomenon is Newgrange in Ireland.
All of them, at the same time
Today also marks the first day of holiday break for all four boys. I’m a little nervous. They’re getting along pretty well, but I think they were born to hit, jump, scream, yell and tease. I’m imagining how our day will go, and that’s quite different from reality. I know this after 11 years of mothering, but I still create these unrealistic fantasies of how smoothly life will be when we’re all home. This causes frustration. I compensate for this by cleaning and straightening up. As if I believe that a clean, tidy, orderly house will make everyone calm. I think it does, but getting to that clean state takes me all day. I do start with a clean house every morning. But after a few minutes of them wandering around in the morning, it’s pretty much a tornado zone. I must make peace with this. Somehow. It’s amazing what a good book can do to draw them in. I think the real trick though, is seeing their own light, and getting out of their way so they can shine. I’ll try to remember that today, on this day of Natalis Solis Invincti.