The mysticism of Winter Solstice is perhaps one of the most enduring of collective memory, than that of any other day of the year. Since early days, Winter Solstice has had a special place in the rituals of human history – and not without reason. Our ancestors knew that on this day, the daylight is shortest and the night is longest (in the northern hemisphere). The long night spun off many rituals and more tales.
Across the world, Winter Solstice is celebrated in many ways. For Jews, the winter solstice is called ‘Tekufat Tevet’, which marks the start of winter. The Egyptians celebrated the birth of Horus, the son of Isis (divine mother goddess) for 12 days during mid-winter. In China, the winter solstice is celebrated by families coming together to eat a special meal.
The pagans (before Christianity) in Europe celebrated the solstice as the start of winter. They slaughtered their farm animals so they would not have to feed them. Wine created during the summer months were also ready for consumption. Hence, the solstice turned into an occasion for feast, often a community one, before snow covered most of the land and people were forced to spend their time indoors.
Winter Solstice is also linked to pagan belief of the crone aspect of the triple-goddess principle (Maiden, Mother and Crone). The crone aspect is also connected to the moon waxing and waning cycle. Crone is seen as the old wise woman, who is the like the dark night or the deep winter and signifies the death of earth (through the waning of the moon). In Vedic tradition, the northern movement of the earth on the celestial sphere is implicitly acknowledged in the Surya Siddhanta, which outlines the Uttarayana (the period between Makar Sankranti and Karka Sankranti). Hence, Winter Solstice is the first day of Uttarayana.
The famous Yule festival used to be celebrated in pre-Christian Scandinavian lands for 12 days and which later became associated with Christmas as Yule-tide.
Winter Solstice influenced the human consciousness so much that ancient people built many architectural structures aligned to phenomenon of Winter Solstice. Stonehenge in England is a product of the popular imagination. However, sites such as Glastonbury Tor (England), Chichen Itza (Mexico), Goseck Circle (Germany), Temple of Karnak (Egypt) and Newgrange (England) were created to celebrate Winter Solstice and map the sun’s rays.
Today’s Winter Solstice is supposed to be a rare phenomenon. It is being said that a rare cosmic alignment will happen which last occurred about 350 years back. It is being said that the Sun will move into Capricorn, just few hours after Saturn makes the same exact shift; this will cause the sun and Saturn to actually line up. Astrologers are warning that this day may not be lucky for some and people may feel constrained.
However the day may turn out to be, one thing is clear – winter is coming.