Here Comes the Sun

Celebrate Winter Solstice with lights, lore, and rituals.

BY: Waverly Fitzgerald


The winter solstice is unique among days of the year--the shortest day and the longest night. Darkness rules but only briefly; from now until the summer solstice, the nights will grow shorter and the days longer.

This turning point was carefully monitored in many ancient cultures. The stones in the circle at Stonehenge were aligned to ascertain the dates of midsummer and midwinter, as well as the positions of the moon throughout the year. Even older than Stonehenge is the tumulus at Newgrange in the Boyne River Valley in Ireland. It was built in approximately 4500 B.C.E. On the morning of the winter solstice, a shaft of sunlight enters the mound, travels down a stone corridor, and illuminates the spiral designs on the back wall of the cave.

The winter solstice has long been celebrated as the birth of the sun, of light, of life itself.

There is lively debate about the purpose of this ancient stone construction. Some scholars believe it is a ritual site enacting the fertilization of the earth by the male sun god. Patricia Monaghan, whose book "O Mother Sun!" elaborates on the many female sun goddesses worshipped from Latvia to Japan, suggests another theory--that the large stone basins found in the cavern at Newgrange were filled with water and became mirrors in which the sun could admire her beauty, just as seeing her radiance in a magic mirror brought the Japanese sun goddess, Amaterasu, out of her cave.

Tracking the Sun
The word solstice means literally "sun stand," describing a phenomenon related to the sun's apparent movement south during the winter. As the sun reaches its southernmost position at the winter solstice, it appears to stand still for a few days. Then it turns around and heads north, bringing with it a few more minutes of light every day.

Excerpted from 'Time to Celebrate: Holidays and Holy Days From Around the World,' a regular column by Waverly Fitzgerald published in SageWoman. This article appears in the Winter 1999-2000 issue, #48.

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