It is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, where it’s the shortest day of the year. In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. It’s when the sun on our sky’s dome reaches its farthest southward point for the year. At this solstice, the Northern Hemisphere has its shortest day and longest night of the year.
“Solstice” comes from two Latin words: sol meaning “sun” and sistere meaning “to stand still” because it appeared as though the sun and moon had stopped moving across the sky. This longest night of the year, followed by a renewal of the sun, demonstrates the cyclical order of the cosmos. In this way, celebrating the solstice can be a beautiful remembrance that our lives are part of a larger order, always changing, always renewing.
Depending on where you are, it will fall on December 20 or 21 or 22 or 23. The December Solstice in New York, New York, U.S.A. is today — Monday, December 21, 2015 at 11:49 PM EST. That said, no matter where you live on Earth’s globe, a solstice is your signal to celebrate!
Things to do to help mark the occasion:
If you live in the northern hemisphere, you can notice the late dawns and early sunsets, and the low arc of the sun across the sky each day. You might notice how low the sun appears in the sky at local noon. And be sure to look at your noontime shadow. Around the time of the December solstice, it’s your longest noontime shadow of the year.
In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s opposite. Dawn comes early, and dusk comes late. The sun is high. It’s your shortest noontime shadow of the year.
In Celebrate the Solstice: Honoring the Earth’s Seasonal Rhythms through Festival and Ceremony (Quest Books, 1993), author Richard Heinberg writes that “wisdom consists in knowing one’s place in any given cycle, and what kinds of action (or restraint of action) are appropriate for that phase.” Attuning our senses to the subtle changes and cycles of the seasons might help us attune more lovingly to the subtle changes and cycles in ourselves. By performing simple rituals with personal meaning to celebrate the solstice, these rituals will serve as touchstones to help us cultivate an attitude of receptiveness and appreciation that will carry us through the holiday season with more ease.
A good starting point might be to make a promise this winter to spend more time listening, watching, and honoring the slower, quieter rhythm of the season. On the solstice, visit a place outdoors that’s special to you—a trail you can walk or a field you can lie down in, a hillside or mountain perch that provides the perfect view, or even the roof of your apartment building or a quiet place on the edge of your yard.
Consider watching the sun rise or set from your little patch of the world. Make a list of loving wishes for friends, family, coworkers—even people you don’t know that well. Build a shrine of nature’s found objects. Light a candle. Reflect on your aspirations for the coming months. Throw the I Ching. Say a prayer. Sing an original song.
Wishing you and yours a Happy Winter Solstice 2015. Enjoy this season of love, light and new beginnings!
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