December 21: The day of the long night for those of us who live north of the equatorial zones . Today has the 24-hour period with the most hours of darkness. On this ultimate day of rest, even the mighty Sun stands momentarily still in the sky.
The word solstice literally means “sun standing still.” At the moment of the winter solstice, the path of the sun in the sky over the past six months has reached its furthest southern position and now turns northward.
Today at noon, the sun will stand directly overhead at latitude 23.5o South, the Tropic of Capricorn. For residents of the Southern Hemisphere, it will be the longest day of the year, but for us in the Northern, the day will be the shortest. Indeed, for regions north of 66.5o latitude, the Arctic Circle, the sun will not rise on this day. At best on this date, those near the Circle will see a twilight glow in the noontime sky. And at the North Pole, the day will signify “Midnight.”
A winter solstice observance can be as simple as truly observing the sunrise or sunset. Perhaps you will turn out the lights in your home after sunset, lighting only with candles and/or firelight as a way of really experiencing the longest night in the same way as our ancestors.
If you want to create your own ritual for the winter solstice, keep in mind that many modern observances involve symbols for three important actions:
- remembering and appreciating the year that is ending
- letting go of the “bad stuff” in the past that we want to leave behind
- and then setting an intention or a direction for the new year.