Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Winter Solstice and the Rebirth of the Sun

Winter sunset

December, for most of us, is marked most by Christmas, but this season has been a time for celebrations throughout many cultures, throughout history.

This year, Friday December 21st 2018 at 22:23 UTC (or GMT,) marks the exact time of the solstice in London, UK - the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

It is the shortest day and the longest night of the year, when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator. This moment in time has been recognised and marked by much of mankind for as far back as we know.

Winter sun setting over Long Meg and her daughters, Cumbria
Winter sun setting over Long Meg and her daughters, Cumbria

Iron Age Celts believed the sun stood still for twelve days, and they would burn a log during this time to banish the darkness and bring good luck into the coming year. Mistletoe was also cut from oak trees to give as a blessing, as the winter fruit was a potent and symbolic representation of life surviving and thriving through the dark months of winter.

The Norse of Northern Europe saw the sun as a giant wheel, turning through and changing the seasons. The word Yule may derive from the Old Nordic word for wheel: 'Hjól,' although this is oft debated.

The Romans had Saturnalia, honouring the sun God Saturn, which ran for seven days from 17th December and celebrated the rebirth of the year.

Entrance and roof box of Newgrange, Boyne Valley, Ireland
The roof box and entrance to Newgrange - aligned with the Winter Solstice

Many of our ancient megalithic monuments, such as Newgrange, Stonehenge and Maeshowe are aligned with the sun at the Winter Solstice, suggesting its importance stretches far, far back into the mists of time. 

Even in our brightly lit Western cultures there is a sense of relief and welcome as we pass the shortest day and begin to look forward to longer days and the first signs of Spring. What must it have been like in a time with little light, where darkness could be absolute, and a harsh winter could mean death? The return of the sun, with its life-affirming and life-giving powers, is a powerful reason for celebration, giving hope for times ahead.

Winter is also a time when Nature sleeps and goes within, hibernating, gestating and waiting for Spring. As well as a time for celebration, as we prepare to welcome the rebirth of the sun, Nature teaches us to also find time for silence, stillness and reflection. To go within to absorb and process the experiences of the passing year, and to transmute these into our hopes and dreams for the future.

Happy Solstice!

Thanks for reading

Justbod Team

Artwork, carvings & sculptures
~ inspired by a love of history & nature ~


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  1. Amazing website and great article... not sure about your claim that Saturn was a Roman "sun god" though

    1. Many thanks for the kind words Nathan! The reference to Saturn as a sun-God was taken from the International Business Times article listed in the source material. Not a subject I'm familiar with, but googling it did bring up some fascinating information and theories! Thanks again for your comment ☺