Winter Solstice: Celebrating The Shortest Day Of The Year - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Winter Solstice: Celebrating The Shortest Day Of The Year

CBCNEWSWORLDNOW.COM - From Stonehenge in England to the Kokino observatory in Macedonia, people are gathering to mark the winter solstice.

Dec. 21 is the shortest day of the year, in terms of daylight hours, in the Northern Hemisphere. At 12:30 a.m. ET (or 5:30 a.m. GMT) on Dec. 22, the hemisphere begins its tilt back toward the sun, marking the winter solstice in this part of the world and slowly leading to longer days.

The solstice is the result of a tilt in the Earth's orbit around the sun that affects the number of daylight hours. The Northern Hemisphere leans farthest away from the sun at this time of year, making the solstice — derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (stand still) — the shortest day of the year and the first official day of winter.

While some may not think it a cause for celebration, the solstice is a day of deep historical and cultural significance.

Solstice celebrations in history

In earlier civilizations, the winter solstice was among the biggest festive events of the year.

Scandinavia's Norsemen called the festivities Yule. The old Norse traditions are now mostly lost to history, but some — such as yule logs, mistletoe, ham for dinner and even the word "yule" — have become hallmarks of contemporary Christmas celebrations.

The Roman Empire's solstice festival of Saturnalia was one of the most significant events in its calendar. Over time, the celebration grew from a one-day feast to a full week of merrymaking. There were public holidays, with animal sacrifices and feasts. It was the only time of the year in which gambling was officially allowed, even for slaves. Slaves also enjoyed a temporary upending of social roles: they were exempt from punishment and celebrated banquets at which they were often waited on by their masters. It was a time to eat, drink and be merry.

But other festivities would eventually eclipse Saturnalia. Christianity took hold in the Roman Empire, and Christmas became a more prominent event. click here to read more

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