Winter Solstice, 2016, Sacred With Many Cultures for Centuries

The Zoroastrian have considered the winter solstice a special night for centuries, the longest night of the year, a night to gather with your friends and family, have a prayer, read from sacred books, and know that light will overcome darkness. Zoroastrians worshiped the sacred black stone of the Middle East long before the Islamic people, and they predated Islam in Iran by centuries.

Now as then, they eat special foods -- a meal with watermelon, pomegranate and other fruits to purify and laugh, dance and celebrate until the moment.

Solstice just happened the night of Dec. 20 (or 3:44 a.m. central time, the morning of Dec. 21).  Dec. 20 was the longest night of 2016, and Dec. 21 the shortest day.

My wife, Saneh, and I went to a celebration with Iranians, (Persians, many of them say)  who celebrate the "Zoroastrian sacrament" even though the Islamic leaders of Iran frown upon it.

Iranians do it to remind themselves that the "Arabs didn't take our culture or religion away." We partied with them, ate and danced, and the mood was charitable and fun.

Wikipedia tells us: "All over the world, people of different cultures notice and rejoice at the winter solstice. Science and astronomers can tell us the facts, but according to history and culture Shab-e Chella is the night opening the "big chella" period. That is the night between the last day of autumn and the first day of winter. The other name of the festival, "Yaldā," is ultimately a borrowing from Syriac-speaking Christians. In the 1st-3rd centuries, significant numbers of Eastern Christians settled in Arsacid and Sassanid territories, where they had received protection from religious persecution. Through them, Western Iranians (Parthians, Persians, etc.) came in contact with Christian religious observances, including, it seems, Nestorian Christian Yalda. In Syriac, a Middle Aramaic dialect, Yalda literally means "birth," but in a religious context was also the Syriac Christian proper name for Christmas, and which, because it fell nine months after Annunciation, was celebrated on eve of the winter solstice. The Christian festival's name passed to the non-Christian neighbors, and although it is not clear when and where the Syriac term was borrowed into Persian, gradually "Shab-e Yalda" and "Shab-e Cheleh" became synonymous, and the two are used interchangeably. Shab-e Chella was officially added to Iran's List of National Treasures in a special ceremony in 2008.

In 2016, the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere began Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 5:44 EST. 

Officially the first day of winter, the winter solstice occurs when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. This is the longest night of the year, meaning that despite the cold winter, the days get progressively longer after the winter solstice until the summer solstice in 2017.

The winter solstice is celebrated by many people around the world as the beginning of the return of the sun, and darkness turning into light. The Talmud recognizes the winter solstice as “Tekufat Tevet.” In China, the Dongzhi Festival is celebrated on the Winter Solstice by families getting together and eating special festive food.

Until the 16th century, the winter months were a time of famine in Northern Europe. Most cattle were slaughtered so that they wouldn’t have to be fed during the winter, making the solstice a time when fresh meat was plentiful. Most celebrations of the winter solstice in Europe involved merriment and feasting. In pre-Christian Scandinavia, the Feast of Juul, or Yule, lasted for 12 days and celebrated the rebirth of the sun god. It gave rise to the custom of burning a Yule log. They also celebrated with dark ale and a form of eggnog, a practice that we enjoy at our house every year, although we normally wait until January and get Christmas behind us.

In ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated at the Feast of Saturnalia to honor Saturn, the god of agricultural bounty. Lasting about a week, Saturnalia was characterized by feasting, debauchery and gift-giving. With Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, many of these customs were later absorbed into Christmas celebrations.

T. Thorn Coyle wrote in a 2012 HuffPost article that for many contemporary celebrants, solstices “are a chance to still ourselves inside, to behold the glory of the cosmos, and to take a breath with the Sacred.”

"In the Northern hemisphere, friends gather to celebrate the longest night. We may light candles or dance around bonfires. We may share festive meals, or sing, or pray. Some of us tell stories and keep vigil as a way of making certain that the sun will rise again. Something in us needs to know that at the end of the longest night, there will be light," Coyle said.

Then he says:

"After the longest night, we sing up the dawn. There is a rejoicing that, even in the darkest time, the sun is not vanquished. Sol Invictus — the Unconquered Sun — is seen once again, staining the horizon with the promise of hope and brilliance."

In the USA the OLD FARMER'S ALMANAC, is much less sacred and more scholarly. It tells us: "The word solstice comes from the Latin words for 'sun' and 'to stand still.' In the Northern Hemisphere, as summer advances to winter, the points on the horizon where the Sun rises and sets advance southward each day; the high point in the Sun’s daily path across the sky, which occurs at local noon, also moves southward each day."

"Stonehenge was constructed in several phases over a period of many centuries. Due to the alignment of the stones, experts acknowledge that the design appears to correspond with the use of the solstices and possibly other solar and lunar astronomical events in some fashion. There are several theories as to why the structure was built, including that the area was used as a temple to worship the sun; as a royal burial ground; and/or as a type of astronomical observatory.

No doubt the coming of light after the longest night of the year is special.

We at BootheGlobalPerspectives send you happy greetings and joy that the nights now become shorter and with the darkness shrinking, the light of new beginnings is upon us.