Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Happy Solstice!

Today is the Winter Solstice (at about 18:30 GMT) . The winter solstice is the shortest day and the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun is at its lowest point in the sky, and the elevation at midday appears to be the same for several days before and after the solstice.

Hence the origin of the word solstice, which comes from Latin solstitium, from sol, "sun" and -stitium, "a stoppage." Following the winter solstice, the days begin to grow longer and the nights shorter and those of us who feel happier with a little sun on our back will start cheering up. Pagan's celebrate Yule today, this is the origin of the Yule log which is ceremonially burnt today and should smolder for twelve days (Twelth Night ring a bell?) before a ceremony to extinguish the flame. Pope Gregory I told missionaries (590 - 604) that it would be easier to convert people to Chrstianity if they were allowed to retain their old festivals and the outward signs of paganism hence holly, mistletoe, mulled wine and so forth. These all played a part in celebrating the end of the old year (the Holly King) and welcoming the growth of the new year (the Oak King). If anyone wants to learn a little more about these links you could start here.

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