The winter solstice, the longest night in the Northern Hemisphere, is this Saturday at 5:11 p.m.
The solstice marks the point in earth’s orbit when the North Pole tilts furthest from the sun. It’s when the sun appears to stop moving south and begin moving north. The word solstice comes from combining the Latin words for sun (sol) and stop (stit).
This article from Space.com offers a more complete explanation of the astronomy behind the solstice, but the various winter solstice events take their inspiration from the pre-scientific era of human history.
For thousands of years, the winter solstice has played a significant role in religion, spirituality and celebratory festivities. Not only is the winter solstice seen as a time to celebrate the return of light (sun), it is also considered a time of great personal reflection.
Still, don't expect it to feel like winter this weekend. Temperatures in the mid 50 degrees are expected to last through Monday before returning to returning to more seasonal 30 degree temps just in time for Christmas.
Winter solstice-related trivia:
- The word solstice comes from two Latin words meaning, "sun" and "to stop”.
- The Incas celebrated Init, the sun god, through winter solstice festivities.
- A noontime shadow around the solstice is the longest shadow of the year. (With the clouds and rain today, it might be difficult to test that one out.)
- The winter solstice in ancient Japan was marked by the sun goddess Amateras’ emergence from her cave.
- In ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated with a festival called Saturnalia, in honor of the deity Saturn.
- The winter-time celebration of Yule marks the death and rebirth cycle of the sun (with ties to pre-Christian Scandinavia, Norway, Germany and England) and celebrates the legendary battle between the Oak King and the Holly King.
- In Germany, the winter solstice was a time of celebration for Hertha, the Norse goddess of light.
- In 2012, the winter solstice will occur on 12.21.12. The “end” of the Mayan calendar and some say, the world.
- The Christmas celebration of Jesus Christ as the birth of the "light of the world" coincides with the metaphorical, annual "rebirth of the sun". Coincidence? I'll leave that up to you to ponder.