The Winter Solstice is a mere moment in time – 5.16pm on 21 June 2011 to be precise – but marks the longest night of the year and more importantly the rebirth of the sun. The sun plays a major part in the significance of the Winter Solstice and signals a victory of light over darkness. The sun-goddess (or god) makes an appearance in numerous historic rituals, from Finland to Peru, Kurdistan to Chile and ancient Babylon.
As the sun gains height as it arcs through the sky, the positive energy increases, according to Chinese yin yang philosophy of balance and harmony. In Greek mythology, gods and goddesses meet on the winter (and summer) solstice and it is the only time Hades – the god of the underworld – is permitted to enter Mount Olympus, home of the Gods.
Reversal is another theme, used in ancient Roman Greece, when masters and slaves swopped places and everyone was allowed to gamble. If Roman-occupied Greece was anything like the early Cape, where slaves outnumbered citizens, it is not surprising this festival of Saturnalia became one of the most popular.
What can you do to mark the Winter Solstice?
- Dash off to Stonehenge and celebrate the summer solstice instead, Druid style.
- Tweet at precisely the moment of the solstice.
- Read Rosamund Pilcher’s book, Winter Solstice
- Perform 100 salutes to the sun (Surya Namaskar); yoga groups usually mark it in this way.
- Watch the film Winter Solstice (2005) with Anthony LaPaglia .