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Winter Solstice

by Mary Anderson on 2022-12-12T08:12:23-06:00 | Comments

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

  • Christina Rossetti, 1872

The winter solstice, also known as midwinter, occurs when one of the Earth’s poles is tilted as far away from the Sun as possible. This results in the shortest day of the year and the day when the Sun is at its lowest maximum elevation in the sky. In the Northern Hemisphere this usually happens on December 21 or 22 and in the Southern Hemisphere, winter solstice is usually Jun 20 or 21. In Dubuque we will see just over nine hours and three minutes of daylight on the winter solstice, but the North Pole will experience a day of almost complete darkness.  

For millennia the winter solstice has been a time marked by festivals and rituals. These rituals focus not on the darkness but on the hope of the return of the light. Specially, many of these centered on the symbolic death and rebirth of the Sun. The Persian festival of Shab-e Yalda or “Night of Birth,” was a celebration of the triumph of Mithra, the Sun God, over darkness. It is still celebrated today by Iranians with fires, festival foods, acts of charity, and community and family gatherings. The ancient Roman celebration of Saturnalia was a joyous time of drinking, feasting, and giving gifts. Later, as the Empire was Christianized, it is commonly thought the celebration of Christmas was created to replace this Roman festival. The Chinese celebration known as Dong Zhi or “Winter Arrives” focuses on the return of longer days and the corresponding increase in positive energy in the year to come. Similar winter solstice festivals also happen in the Southern Hemisphere, but these, of course, are in June. For instance, the Incas observed Inti Raymi or “Sun Festival,” to honoring Inti, the Sun God. This festival was banned by the Spaniards after the conquest but was revived in the 20th century.

If you are interested in observing the solstice you can create your own traditions or adopt some of these. Decorate a live outdoor tree with edible ornaments – citrus bird feeders, peanut butter pinecones, seed ornaments, or popcorn and cranberry garlands – for birds and other critters. Create luminaries or paper lanterns to light up the night or gather around winter fire. You also could read winter books! Check out our display on the first floor of the Library featuring winter books from our PK12 collection. Happy Solstice!  


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