23 December 2006

Winter Solstice

I was unaware yesterday when I wrote my Droopy Dog post that my subdued mood may have been influenced by the winter solstice. Just a little research reminded me that the shortest day, and longest night, of the year has a tremendous influence on the human psyche. I even found an entire Web site, called Candlegrove.com devoted to the world's many winter holidays centered around the Northern Hemisphere's darkest days of the year. To quote Candlegrove.com, at the root of these celebrations is "an ancient fear that the failing light would never return unless humans intervened with anxious vigil or antic celebration."

As far as antic celebration goes, I couldn't help noticing the similarity between Christmas, as it's celebrated in the U.S., anyway, and the ancient Roman celebration of Saturnalia. Every single year, I ask myself why we do it. What makes otherwise sensible people spend themselves into debt, deface their homes with gaudy multicolored lights, cut down trees and bring them indoors (with more lights), send hundreds of greeting cards to people they barely know or like, and throw dietary caution to the wind? (Yes, you observed correctly; that's a box of Godiva chocolates that's joined my Filofax on the left-hand corner of my desk in yesterday's entry. Hey, the store in which I finished my Christmas shopping was having a sale. It was meant to be.) During Saturnalia, too, the Romans attempted to turn night into day by turning societal norms on their ear. They shuttered their businesses, freed their slaves (temporarily), feasted and feted, and exchanged their togas for costumes (or for nothing at all).

I guess there's no point fighting it. Once a year we have license to deal with life's stress by eating, drinking, taking, giving, and partying too much, and we've been doing it long before Macy's told Gimbel's. Me, I'm going to bed early tonight so I'll have the energy to wrap gifts, celebrate Christmas in two states, and sing and play handbells at three services in the space of 24 hours.

Your Filofax defines the winter solstice on one of the information pages at the beginning of the diary -- the page called "The World and Time." However, it won't give you the date and time of the solstice in your area. For that, you have to consult a site like this one. For the record, in North America, the sun reached its solstice on the evening of December 21, 2006.

Photo credit to www.knowth.com, a site devoted to Ireland's prehistoric Newgrange megalith, whose chamber precisely admits the beam of the winter solstice sun.


  1. Hi Nan! Good luck with the handbells! Winter is not all doom and gloom. There's nothing like having a fire to tend on a cold dark night.

  2. Nan

    Winter Solstice is actually my favourite day. Altho it is the shortest day / longest night of the year, I am heartened by the fact that after this day, the days get longer and the nights shorter.

    The Chinese celebrate Winter Solstice and call it "gor tong", which means passing of winter.

    We have a dessert that day called "tong yuen" which mean soup balls. I wrote about it on my weblog last year:
    Winter Solstice Food

  3. Hi Chet -- Thanks for sharing your Gor Tong story with us. I read your blog entry several times! What happy family memories.

  4. Hi Nan!
    There is something very comforting about the Winter Solstice to me. There was a time when I dreaded the falling leaves and the swift journey into to winter that quickly follows here in SW Ohio. Depression at this slow time of year was sometimes a bit more than I could bear; however, all living things must die out for a time and rest beneath the earth’s cozy bed. I’m not the most patient person in the world, so this is a work in progress. I now try to look at winter as a time of rest and renewal. The icy cool air cleanses the senses as well as the spirit and prepares me for the first signs of spring right around the corner.
    This fluffy representation of how I view this time of year is difficult for me to maintain over several months, but I am reminded of the farmer who was so anxious to see progress that he ran out to his garden and tugged on the first new shoots of the season to hurry things along. In his efforts to assist his crop, his seedlings were damaged and there was no crop after all.
    I have resolved to work on my need to tug this year. Wish me luck!

  5. Hi Dewanna! Thank you for your lovely (and true) description of the purpose of this time of year for people and other living things. And good luck on that resolution!