As the countdown to Christmas continues and the holiday rush to complete preparations is at its peak, along comes the Winter Solstice, welcoming the official beginning of winter.Many Chinese consider the solstice a time for optimism and joy and hold celebrations on this day. The Winter Solstice is a perfect example of the theory of Yin and Yang. In Chinese philosophy, Yin symbolizes the feminine, womb-like qualities of the universe while Yang the masculine, more dynamic energy. The concept is based on the observation that when something has reached one extreme, it will turn to the opposite, seeking balance. On the day of the Winter Solstice, the Yin is at its peak with the longest night. From then on, it will give way to the light and warmth of Yang.
The word “solstice” is Latin for “sun-stand still.” It occurs exactly when the Earth’s axial tilt is
farthest away from the sun, bringing the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Winter Solstice marks the great stillness before the Sun’s strength builds, and days begin to grow longer.
The Solstice has long been honored by many traditions as a sacred and rich time. In ancient times, dark and dreary December was a most dreaded time of year because the lack of heat and limited food supply could be disastrous. Thus, to many people the promise of lighter days after the Winter Solstice was cause to celebrate and acknowledge that nature’s cycle was continuing.While interpretation of the event has varied, most cultures have viewed it as recognition of rebirth. Holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals and other celebrations were created to celebrate this event.
The return of the light is the most prominent feature of most midwinter festivals. In Sweden on St. Lucia’s Day, young girls don white dresses and a wreath of candles and awaken their families with cakes and songs. In the Jewish tradition, Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by 8 days of lighting the menorah candles. There is the advent wreath of the Christian faith and the all-night bonfire for the burning of the Yule log, a tradition with roots in Northern European pre-Christian times.
Cultural winter traditions have evolved and include decorating with evergreens, adding lights to outdoor treesoutdoor trees, using fire pits or fireplaces, feasting and gathering with friends and family. These activities create a festive mood and may help to counter complaints of increased moodiness, tiredness, malaise and inactivity due to the lack of sunlight, (officially recognized as SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder) and the stresses of the holidays.
This year, the Winter Solstice is December 21. Since the Solstice also marks a time of new beginnings, we can begin to think about what we want to let go of and what we want to create as we move ever closer to 2015. I appreciate the opportunity the Winter Solstice provides to pause during this often-frenzied holiday time and reflect on the beauty of the season and consider what is personally meaningful to each of us.
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December,
A magical thing
And sweet to remember,
We are nearer to spring
Than we were in September.
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.– Oliver Herford
May your Holiday be wrapped in warmth, touched with wonder, and filled with love.