Winter Solstice

Somewhere between December 20 and 22, we have the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. It is also called midwinter, which is somewhat ironic because it is also the official start of winter. I like the term midwinter myself because it reminds me that we are now halfway out of the dark, and the days will slowly be getting filled with more light. For my friends who love the deep peace of winter, the solstice is not a day to celebrate, but for those of us who love the summer, it is a celebration and a relief.

As the precursor to spring, midwinter also reminds us that all life begins in the dark, although we won’t see it until the days get longer and warmer.

For people in times past, the solstice was filled with significance. We see that most clearly in the monuments they left behind, such as Stonehenge and Newgrange in Ireland, which are situated with respect to the solstice. The Solstice, of course, held special significance for people who relied on agriculture, with its promise that spring was coming, even though the worst of the winter was yet to come. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available.

Many festivals are or were held at this time of year. Ancient Rome celebrated Saturnalia. Scandinavia called this time Yule, or Jul, Many modern Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, the Yule log, and others, are direct descendants of Yule customs. Gods of death and rebirth are also associated with the solstice, as Mithras in Rome.

Wishing you a happy solstice today.

Quotes about the solstice and winter

The Winter Solstice is the time of ending and beginning, a powerful time – a time to contemplate your immortality. A time to forgive, to be forgiven, and to make a fresh start. A time to awaken.–Frederick Lenz

The winter solstice has always been special to me as a barren darkness that gives birth to a verdant future beyond imagination, a time of pain and withdrawal that produces something joyfully inconceivable, like a monarch butterfly masterfully extracting itself from the confines of its cocoon, bursting forth into unexpected glory.–Gary Zukav

Now, near the Winter Solstice, it is good to light candles. All the nice meanings of bringing light to the world can be beautiful. But perhaps we are concentrating on lighting the world because we don’t know how to light up our own lives.–Ralph Levy

I celebrate the spirit of Christmas. It’s the winter solstice celebration, rebirth and new possibilities.–Ian Astbury

Heading into the night of the winter solstice, every spiritual tradition has some kind of festival of light. We’re all just whistling in the dark, hoping against hope that someone up there will see these little Hanukkah candles and get the hint.–Lawrence Kushner

In a way winter is the real spring, the time when the inner thing happens, the resurge of nature.–Edna O’Brien

Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.–Pietro Aretino

There is a wilder solitude in winter
When every sense is pricked alive and keen.–May Sarton

Chill December brings the sleet,
Blazing fire, and Christmas treat.–Sara Coleridge

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.–T. S. Eliot

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.–Anne Bradstreet

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The Solstice

Today, June 20, is the solstice, the summer solstice if you are in the northern hemisphere and the winter solstice if you are in the southern hemisphere. Since I am writing from the north, I will concentrate on the summer solstice.

For many, this a day of rejoicing at the beginning of summer. For those who hate the heat of the summer, there is at least the consolation that from now on the days will be getting shorter. For vegetable gardeners like myself, I am hoping this heralds the beginning of a spurt of growth to mature my tomatoes and peppers, as well as the other plants in my garden. For those who (also like me) who live in a semi-desert area, this heralds the beginning of the watering season. With the weather becoming hotter and drier, I will need to water most days now.

Also known as Midsummer, people have been celebrating the solstice pretty much ever since man began. Some historians point to Stonehenge as evidence of the fact that ancient humans used the June Solstice as a way to organize their calendars. Some believe that Stonehenge’s unique stone circle was erected around 2500 BCE in order to establish the date of the Summer Solstice. Different cultures have different ways of celebrating. In ancient China, this was a time to celebrate the feminine, the yin of the year. In northern Europe, it often celebrated the feast days of fertility goddesses. As Christianity moved in, this was changed to a feast honoring John the Baptist, and renamed St. John’s Day. Native Americans also had rituals, celebrating the joining of earth and sky. In Seattle where I used to live, there is a parade in the Fremont area on the solstice, which is wild and crazy, known primarily for nude bicycle riding.

Today in our mechanized society, it is easy to dismiss the rhythms of the earth and let this significant day pass with hardly a thought, but it does mark the turning of the seasons, and it is good to stop and honor that.

Here are some quotes about summer to brighten your day.

And pomp, and feast, and revelry,
With mask, and antique pageantry,
Such sights as youthful poets dream
On summer eves by haunted stream.–John Milton (“L’Allegro”)

Green was the silence, wet was the light,
the month of June trembled like a butterfly.–Pablo Neruda (100 Love Sonnets)

I should like to enjoy this summer flower by flower, as if it were to be the last one for me.–Andre Gide (Journals)

It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.–Maud Hart (Lovelace, Betsy-Tacy and Tib)

No price is set on lavish summer;
June may be had by the poorest comer.–James Russell Lowell (Vision of Sir Launfal)

The Queen of Hearts
She made some tarts,
All on a summer’s day;
The Knave of Hearts
He stole the tarts,
And took them clean away. (well-known Nursery rhyme)

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time.–Sir John Lubbock

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou are more lovely and more temperate… –William Shakespeare (“Sonnet 18”)

Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.–Henry James

Summer Time an’ the livin’ is easy…–Heyward DuBose (Porgy and Bess)

Summertime is always the best of what might be.–Charles Bowden

The way to ensure summer in England is to have it framed and glazed in a comfortable room.–Horace Walpole (Letter to Rev. William Cole Correspondence)

What is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days. . .–James Russell Lowell (Vision of Sir Launfal)

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