21:12 :12: Winter Solstice or End of the World?
Environment, Science, Culture
Winter Solstice - the World's Greatest Holiday, or perhaps the 'End of the World'
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 20 December, 2012: - - December 21, 2012, marks the solstice this year - the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere. The precise moment of the 2012 solstice will be 21 December 2012 at 11h12 UTC. The date varies from December 20 to December 23 depending on the year in the Gregorian calendar.
The 2012 December solstice occurs on the speculated date for 'the end of the world'.
The 2012 'End of the World' phenomenon comprises a range of eschatological beliefs according to which cataclysmic or transformative events will occur on 21 December 2012. Various astronomical alignments and numerological formulae have been proposed as pertaining to this date, though none have been accepted by mainstream scholarship.
A New Age interpretation of this transition is that the date marks the start of time in which Earth and its inhabitants may undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, and that 21 December 2012 may mark the beginning of a new era. Others suggest that the date marks the end of the world or a similar catastrophe.
Scenarios suggested for the end of the world include the arrival of the next solar maximum, an interaction between Earth and the black hole at the center of the galaxy, or Earth's collision with a planet called 'Nibiru'.
Many are convinced the world is going to end on Friday 21 December. Some people believe Mayan writings predict that we're going to get sucked into a black hole or smash into another planet or something. Perhaps a tidal wave engulfs the Himalayas. A tsunami scoops up a warship and dumps it on the White House. The Great Wall of China crumbles and thousands plummet to their deaths.
Soon the horrors reach European shores. A massive earthquake sends Big Ben crashing to the ground and destroys the newly-built Olympic stadium, great surges in rivers drown millions all over the continent, and plunging asteroids turn our towns and cities into smoking ruins. Those who survive the initial onslaught flee in terror, but to run is futile for this is the ultimate catastrophe.
For scientific facts from NASA on the matter click here
Longest Night of the Year
The winter solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. The sun appears at its lowest point in the sky, and its noontime elevation appears to be the same for several days before and after the solstice. Hence the origin of the word solstice, which comes from Latin solstitium, from sol, “sun” and -stitium, “a stoppage.” Following the winter solstice, the days begin to grow longer and the nights shorter.
Celebrating the Winter Solstice
Winter Solstice, or Yule, is held on or around December 22nd. It marks the shortest day of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere) and is an important holiday to those who follow the old ways.
The Winter Solstice Festival
Everybody knows that in December, people celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah (and now, the newly minted African-American holiday, Kwanzaa), but how many realize just how closely related these different celebrations are? There's a bit of controversy lately about "Happy Holidays" versus "Merry Christmas" but these supposedly separate celebrations are actually connected to the Winter Solstice. As metaphors they remarkably share a message thousands of years older than their respective religions. Furthermore, the explanation for these similarities is more Ice Age than New Age.
What's a solstice?
Thousands of years ago, people noticed the days getting shorter and the sun traveling lower in the sky. They were alarmed. Many thought this was the end of the world. In Northern Europe at Winter, there would be up to 35 days without any glimpse of the Sun. As the Sun waned, people saw everything dead and dying. Without sunlight, there would be no plants, no animals and soon, no humans. In the spiritual realm, many thought the darkness brought out ghosts, trolls, and evil spirits. It was frightening. Imagine our modern world experiencing a 35-day eclipse!
In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice occurs every December 21st. It marks the beginning of winter and is the shortest day of the year, but more importantly, it marks the point where the number of daylight hours begins to increase.
In Ireland, Newgrange is a huge circular stone structure similar to Stonehenge. Newgrange is a marker for the Winter Solstice. It is built to allow a shaft of sunlight to penetrate its central chamber only at dawn on the Winter Solstice--a giant celestial clock, built over 5,000 years ago. To put it in perspective, please note that the Egyptian pyramids are only 3,000 years old. Hopi and Pueblo Indians in pre-historic America constructed similar structures called kivas. Throughout the world, ancient peoples marked the solstice and were reassured that daylight would not end.
Solstice means “the Sun standing still.” It signaled the return of the Sun and gave hope to early man. This was a cause for celebration and much of our winter holiday comes from solstice festivities--many aspects of which are related to fire and light and the rebirth of hope. Solstice festivals have been observed around the globe throughout history.
Winter Solstice 1999
On the Winter Solstice 1999, and again on the Summer Solstice 2001, the Earth, the Sun and the
Moon were all Exactly Aligned in a Straight Line with the Galactic Equator Courtesy GaiaMind
The re-birth of the Sun
Some 4,000 years ago, the Egyptians and Syrians celebrated the Winter Solstice as the “birth of the Sun.” The Egyptians even depicted the new-born Sun as an infant whose mother was the great goddess called the Heavenly Virgin. The priests would emerge from shrines at midnight on the Solstice to shout, “The Virgin has brought forth! The light is waxing!” Two thousand years later, this story was adapted as the birth of Christ, with Jesus replacing the very similar Persian Sun god, Mithras.
So why is the solstice on December 21st and Christmas held on December 25th?
The New Testament specified no date for the birth of Jesus, so about 366 C.E., the Roman empire state church selected December 25th--the Roman calendar's Solstice--which was already a traditional "God's Birthday" across the empire for the many religions it contained. Having Jesus born on the Solstice also lent him credibility. It helped convert pagans to Christianity, since the new god was a version of their old god (Mithris, Saturn, Mordoc, Horus, Sol, Apollo, Osiris, etc .) Of course, this similarity to other gods of light and eternal life is truer than most Christians realize.
The Jewish rabbinical holiday of Hanukkah is another Winter Solstice celebration. Hanukkah commemorates the rebuilding of the Temple after Judah Maccabee defeated King Antiochus. A menorah was found, but there was only enough oil to keep the lamp lit for one day--miraculously, it lasted eight days! The Hanukkah “festival of lights” is clearly a metaphor for the Solstice’s lengthening of the light--the return of the Sun. Few Jews recognize the connection between their holiday and the pagan Solstice festivals or Christ's birthday.
Everyone has so focused on the literalness of the events (menorahs, divine births) that they fail to see through the metaphors to the truly cosmic relevance of the Solstice. The Sun god and menorah miracle derive from the Solstice, and on one level signify ancient man’s need for the Sun to survive, but these symbols of light predate either religion and have a deeper spiritual message--they symbolize life after death.
Light = Life
The story of Jesus presents this Solstice metaphor particularly well. Christians celebrate Christ’s nativity as a rescue from the darkness of the Fall of Man (Adam and Eve, the apple, etc.). The Catholic interpretation is that after banishment from the Garden of Eden, the souls of the dead cannot go to Heaven, but must wait in Purgatory (a/k/a Limbo). It required a savior to allow those souls into Heaven. Christ is the savior providing a "way" for all to enter Heaven after death.
Father Winter Solstice
The Solstice provides hope for the rebirth of Spring after the “death” that is Winter--in other words, life, in this world, and Christ provides for a rebirth in the next world. However, over the millennia, people stopped interpreting their religions metaphorically and instead began seeing them as historical events, holy in themselves. This obscured the connections to the Solstice, but they can easily be uncovered again. Take the Christmas tree, for example.
A Judeo-Christian-Pagan Rite
As Christianity spread, it appropriated many pagan symbols, most of which are no longer seen as metaphors. Pagan Romans brought evergreens into their homes for Solstice celebrations. Like the Solstice’s promise of Spring-time, evergreens symbolized immortality--they don't turn brown in Winter. These became the Christmas trees of Europe and connect to the immortality promised by Christ. Christmas tree ornaments are stand-ins for the apples Northern European pagans tied to trees to remind themselves that the life giving Spring and Summer would return.
The pagans also placed candles in the branches of their trees, similar to the Hanukkah menorah and hearkening back to the Solstice bonfires and Yule logs of everyone from the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks, to the Druids and the Norsemen. The Christmas tree is far more pagan than Christian and directly tied to the Solstice--although it also echoes the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden, and the Cross, but those interpretations came later, as justifications for these obviously pagan symbols. The use of holly and mistletoe are similar borrowings from pagan Solstice festivals.
The Santa Claus Angle
So too, has the character known as Santa Claus been merged into the Christian celebration. Many pagan cultures had a character who would visit at the Solstice to bring gifts. A Yule elf with magical reindeer was one such being, clothed in the traditional red, black, and white costume--the colors of life, death, and rebirth.
“Old Nick” was a Danish sea god, and the early Christian bishop, Saint Nicholas, was attributed a power over storms and possessed a magic cauldron to resurrect the dead (a power both very pagan and also Christ-like). The visitor came at night and left gold coins in stockings and shoes. In the Netherlands, he was called "Sinter Klaas"--a name later Anglicized to "Santa Claus." The old Danish gift-bringer known as Julemanden has elves as helpers, arrives in a sleigh drawn by reindeer and sports a sack of goodies on his back.
Santa is most famously portrayed in the anonymous early 19th century poem “A Visit From Saint Nicholas,” popularly known as “The Night Before Christmas.” Santa Claus appears totally of pagan origin. Charles Dickens’ "Ghost of Christmas Present" from his "Christmas Carol" story is clearly another version of this Santa character--right down to his jolly laughter.
The Real "Real Meaning of Christmas"
Some people bemoan the modern celebration of Santa Claus and gift giving as straying from “what Christmas is all about.” To them, Santa Claus is an interloper crashing the celebration of the birth of Christ. But if you see the two characters as manifestations of the Winter Solstice, they are very closely related. Like the return of the Sun, both Santa and Jesus Christ are gift givers with miraculous powers whose coming is hoped for and celebrated every year at the Solstice.
Christ was considered the son of God, but also God, himself. Traditionally, God and Santa Claus are both depicted as wise old men with white beards who know if people have been bad or good and judge them--dispensing or withholding gifts. Those gifts could be a toy, another good harvest, or life after death. If you are bad, Santa Claus brings you a lump of coal. If you lead a bad life, the Christian God sends you to Hell, the land of coal. But don't fret, because, doesn't coal produce light when lit? And light is what the holiday is really all about--a light of redemption, another chance.
In ancient societies, light meant life--without it, there was none. The light symbolized the afterlife, Heaven, Valhalla, Nirvana, Happy Hunting Grounds, even reincarnation. Today, people who have had near-death experiences report seeing a bright light. The Winter Solstice marks the re-birth of the Sun. The return of light means there is always hope. And our celebrations validate faith. Believing in Santa Claus is no child's deception, no more so than believing in God is an adult's deception. They are both articles of faith.
The shared message of the solstice festivals of Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa--that life will go on--is more universal than their Jewish, Christian, or African origins would lead you to believe. As long as there are children, there will be a Santa Claus. As long as there are people, there will be a God. And as long as there is a Winter Solstice there is the promise of life renewed. The Winter Solstice festival is the world's greatest holiday, a celestial celebration.
From cavemen to spacemen, it's been the same festive occasion. So have a happy Solstice! Don't belittle it. When you say "Happy Hanukkah," "Merry Christmas," "Season's Greetings," or "Happy Holidays," the Solstice is what we've really been celebrating all along. They all reflect a moment of hope amidst a time of darkness. So walk into the light and shine on!
Sun & Winter Solstice 2006
Winter Solstice: The Unconquered Sun
At the Winter Solstice, we celebrate Children's Day to honour our children and to bring warmth, light and cheerfulness into the dark time of the year. Holidays such as this have their origin as "holy days". They are the way human beings mark the sacred times in the yearly cycle of life.
In the northern latitudes, midwinter's day has been an important time for celebration throughout the ages. On this shortest day of the year, the sun is at its lowest and weakest, a pivot point from which the light will grow stronger and brighter. This is the turning point of the year. The romans called it Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.
The Roman midwinter holiday, Saturnalia, was both a gigantic fair and a festival of the home. Riotous merry-making took place, and the halls of houses were decked with boughs of laurel and evergreen trees. Lamps were kept burning to ward off the spirits of darkness. Schools were closed, the army rested, and no criminals were executed. Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewellery, and incense. Temples were decorated with evergreens symbolizing life's continuity, and processions of people with masked or blackened faces and fantastic hats danced through the streets.
The custom of mummers visiting their neighbours in costume, which is still alive in Newfoundland, is descended from these masked processions.
Roman masters feasted with slaves, who were given the freedom to do and say what they liked (the medieval custom of all the inhabitants of the manor, including servants and lords alike, sitting down together for a great Christmas feast, came from this tradition). A Mock King was appointed to take charge of the revels (the Lord of Misrule of medieval Christmas festivities had his origin here).
In pagan Scandinavia the winter festival was the yule (or juul). Great yule logs were burned, and people drank mead around the bonfires listening to minstrel-poets singing ancient legends. It was believed that the yule log had the magical effect of helping the sun to shine more brightly.
Mistletoe, which was sacred because it mysteriously grew on the most sacred tree, the oak, was ceremoniously cut and a spray given to each family, to be hung in the doorways as good luck. The celtic Druids also regarded mistletoe as sacred. Druid priests cut it from the tree on which it grew with a golden sickle and handed it to the people, calling it All-Heal. To hang it over a doorway or in a room was to offer goodwill to visitors. Kissing under the mistletoe was a pledge of friendship. Mistletoe is still forbidden in most Christian churches because of its Pagan associations, but it has continued to have a special place in home celebrations.
In the third century various dates, from December to April, were celebrated by Christians as Christmas. January 6 was the most favoured day because it was thought to be Jesus' baptismal day (in the Greek Orthodox Church this continues to be the day to celebrate Christmas). Around 350, December 25 was adopted in Rome and gradually almost the entire Christian Church agreed to that date, which coincided with Winter Solstice, the Yule and the Saturnalia. The merry side of Saturnalia was adopted to the observance of Christmas. By 1100 Christmas was the peak celebration of the year for all of Europe. During the 16th century, under the influence of the Reformation, many of the old customs were suppressed and the Church forbade processions, colourful ceremonies, and plays.
In 1647 in England, Parliament passed a law abolishing Christmas altogether. When Charles II came to the throne, many of the customs were revived, but the feasting and merrymaking were now more worldly than religious.
In Nova Scotia outdoor coloured lights play an important part in the local celebration of the mid-winter season. With the day turning to darkness so early in the North, it is cheering to look out into the cold and dark at lights sparkling and glittering in the crisp air.
Celebration of Children's Day is inspired not only by the pagan celebrations of mid-winter but arises also out of the Japanese holidays of Boy's Day and Doll's Day, which are two separate days in the spring, when boys and girls of a certain age are presented to the temple and honoured with special gifts. The Shambhala Children's Shrine is modeled after the display of ancestral dolls traditional in homes on Doll's Day.
Sangha is our village, our clan, our family. Our children belong to all of us, and are bright reminders of the future of Buddhism. We celebrate them and the Great Eastern Sun together at the darkest time of the year, with open-hearth parties and cheerful festivities.
Auhor: The Editors
tags: Solstice, End of the World,
Environment - Surfersvillage