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What is the Winter Solstice?
Solstices mark the shortest and longest days of the year. There are two solstices annually: the Winter Solstice and the Summer Solstice.
The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year and longest night of the year. This event is due to the Earth's tilt on its axis and its orbit around the sun. It's caused when one of the Earth's poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun. (From this day onward, the days will continue get longer until they reach the longest day of the year on the Summer Solstice.)
It also officially marks the beginning of winter.
**It's important to note that while here in the United States (in the Northern Hemisphere) our WINTER Solstice falls on or around December 21st, the Southern Hemisphere is celebrating the SUMMER Solstice on exactly the same day. Why? Because at that time, the opposite pole on Earth has reached its maximum tilt toward the Sun.
The word "solstice" itself is Latin and literally means to sun stilled - sol ("sun") and sistere ("to stand still"). It was created, one would assume, because on this day, the sun reaches its highest point in the sky and appears to stop its celestial journey across the sky.
This year, the Winter Solstice will coincide with another remarkable phenomenon: The Christmas Star. On Dec. 21, the planets Jupiter and Saturn will appear so close together that they will almost look like one point of light to the unaided eye. Here's how you can see it.
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The Winter Solstice in Mesoamerica
The solstices have a significant history in Mesoamerican cultures. Both the Aztec and Maya considered the day sacred and it influenced their inventions and art.
The day itself is the most important point in the Maya calendar, which was created by the talented astronomers and mathematicians who carefully studied the heavens over centuries. The calendar is one of the most accurate to be invented, and the solstice is the most important point of the calendar.
They also built solar complexes with pyramids created specifically to celebrate significant dates, such as the summer and winter solstices. On these days, the sun illuminates exactly half of the pyramid leaving the other half in darkness. This phenomenon may be seen at Chichen Itza when El Castillo (the pyramid of Kukulkan) becomes divided perfectly in two.
The Aztecs celebrated Huitzilopochtli's birthday on the Winter Solstice. He was the Aztec's sun god. And they celebrated his rebirth every year on this day in a festive ritual called, Panquetzaliztli. This new sun was symbolic of the light found within each person and represented.
The Inca also celebrated the solstice with Inti Raymi, or the Festival of the Sun. But remember, that the Inca are located in the Southern Hemisphere, so it was celebrated around June 21st. Inti Raymi is still celebrated in certain areas and many of the traditions have been handed down. Here's a beautiful video about the modern Inti Raymi celebration.
Crafts & Activities for Kids
- Little Bins for Little Hands has a nice collection of 15 Winter Solstice Activities for Kids.
- Red Ted Art has a tutorial for making Simple Lanterns for Winter Solstice
- Host a Waldorf Solstice Spiral for your immediate family with these tips from Simplify, Live, Love.
- Check out Heart and Mind Press on TpT. They have a whole bunch of printable activities related to the Winter Solstice, many of them free!
The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice
by Carolyn McVickar Edwards
The Solstice Badger
by Robin McFadden
The Winter Solstice
by Ellen Jackson