What is the Winter Solstice?

After the winter solstice, days start getting longer for those who live in the northern hemisphere. After the winter solstice, days start getting longer for those who live in the northern hemisphere. The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and the longest day of the year for those who live in the southern half of the world. This year, it arrived at 5:30 p.m. Universal Time on December 22 (which was 12:30 a.m. Eastern Time).

For centuries, people have celebrated the Solstice. Scientifically speaking, it takes place at exactly the moment when the Earth is tilted on its axis by 23.5 degrees, placing the northern hemisphere at its farthest point away from the sun. But what ancient cultures noticed was that the sun seemed to reverse course at a certain point each winter, and the brutally short days started getting longer again.

Ancient Kelts held massive bonfires to celebrate midwinter. The Ancient Japanese had elaborate rituals involving the return of the sun goddess, Amaterasu. The ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia, which was originally celebrated by the Greeks as Kronia and marked by the giving of gifts, and they also dedicated an entire winter month to Brumalia, a wine-soaked celebration leading up to "bruma," or "shortest day." In China, the Extreme of Winter is linked to yin and yang, the idea of balance and harmony in the universe, and in ancient Persia, Zoroastrians marked the day as the triumph of the sun over darkness.

Even now, for many people the winter solstice symbolizes a time of renewal and hope.

"For me, Yule is the season of rebirth," writes Yahoo! contributor Tennille Webster, who says that she's Pagan and her partner is a Christian who is "far more spiritual than religious."

"The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year, and the Goddess gives birth to the new God, who was conceived during Ostara, which coincides with the Christian Easter," she explains. "The old god passes at Samhain, which coincides with the Christian Day of the Dead."

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