An astronomical event, the winter solstice is the exact moment when the sun reaches the Tropic of Capricorn and those of us in the Northern Hemisphere experience the shortest period of daylight and the longest nighttime during the year.
The word “solstice” means “when the sun stands still.” It’s based on the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (“to stand still”). During the Winter Solstice, the sun appears lowest in the sky, and at noon its elevation appears to stay the same for several days before and after. As this period passes, many ancient cultures believed that a rebirth of the Sun was taking place, since the hours of daylight gradually became longer by a few minutes every day.
Indigenous Culture Responses to the Winter Solstice
The Winter Solstice has been celebrated globally from ancient times and is still celebrated today in many ways. It might surprise you to learn that many Christmas customs, symbols, lore, and rituals were purloined from indigenous cultures (called “pagan” by Christians; “a person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions”) in Europe and elsewhere. Following are just a few examples: