Friday, December 20, 2013

Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice

The winter solstice is the solstice that occurs in winter. It is the time at which the sun appears at noon at its lowest altitude above the horizon. It is the shortest day of the year.

The winter solstice may have been immensely important because communities were not certain of living through the winter, and had to be prepared during the previous nine months. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as "the famine months". In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time. The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the beginning of the pre-Romanized day, which falls on the previous eve.

Different cultures celebrate the winter solstice in different ways:

Junkanoo 


In The Bahamas, Junkunno or Jonkanoo in Jamaica, is a masquerade, parade and street festival, suspected to be derived from either Dzon'ku 'Nu (tr: Witch-doctor) of the West African Papaws, an Ewe people or Njoku Ji, an Alusi (Igbo: deity) of the Igbo people. It is traditionally performed through the streets towards the end of December, and involves participants dressed in a variety of fanciful costumes, such as the Cow Head, the Hobby Horse, the Wild Indian, and the Devil. The parades are accompanied by bands usually consisting of fifes, drums, and coconut graters used as scrapers, and Jonkanoo songs are also sung. A similar practice was once common in coastal North Carolina, where it was called "John Canoe", "John Koonah", or "John Kooner". John Canoe was likened to the wassailing tradition of medieval Britain. John Canoe was interpreted by many Euro-Americans to bear strong resemblance to the social inversion rituals that marked the ancient Roman celebration of Saturnalia.

Dongzhi Festival




The Winter Solstice Festival or The Extreme of Winter is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Chinese and other East Asians during the dongzhi solar term on or around December 21 when sunshine is weakest and daylight shortest; i.e., on the first day of the dongzhi solar term.

The origins of this festival can be traced back to the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. After this celebration, there will be days with longer daylight hours and therefore an increase in positive energy flowing in.

Traditionally, the Dongzhi Festival is also a time for the family to get together. One activity that occurs during these get togethers (especially in the southern parts of China and in Chinese communities overseas) is the making and eating of Tangyuan  or balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize reunion. In Korea, similar balls of glutinous rice, is prepared in a traditional porridge made with sweet red bean Patjook which was believed to have a special power and sprayed around houses on winter solstice to repel sinister spirits. This practice was based on a traditional folk tale, in which the ghost of a man that used to hate patjook comes haunting innocent villagers on the winter solstice.

Inti Raymi


or "Festival of the Sun" was a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire in honor of the sun god Inti. It also marked the winter solstice and a new year in the Andes of the Southern Hemisphere. One ceremony performed by the Inca priests was the tying of the sun. In Machu Picchu there is still a large column of stone called an Intihuatana, meaning "hitching post of the sun" or literally for tying the sun. The ceremony to tie the sun to the stone was to prevent the sun from escaping. The Spanish conquest, never finding Machu Picchu, destroyed all the other intihuatana, extinguishing the sun tying practice. The Catholic Church managed to suppress all Inti festivals and ceremonies by 1572. Since 1944 a theatrical representation of the Inti Raymi has been taking place at Sacsayhuamán (two km from Cusco) on June 24 of each year, attracting thousands of local visitors and tourists. The Monte Alto culture may have also had a similar tradition.


Even Christmas gets its roots from the Winter Solstice!


Christmas or Christ's Mass is one of the most popular Christian celebrations as well as one of the most globally recognized mid-winter celebrations in the Northern Hemisphere. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, called the "son of God," the second person of the Holy Trinity, as well as "savior of the world." The birth is observed on December 25, which was the Roman winter solstice upon establishment of the Julian Calendar. Activities include feasting, midnight masses and singing Christmas carols about the Nativity. Good deeds and gift giving in the tradition of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus is also observed. Many observe the holiday for twelve days leading up to Epiphany.

How do you celebrate the winter solstice?
Stephanie Stepford and I will be attending a Winter Soltice Wedding! Look for it in an upcoming post!

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