Winter Solstice is a Time to Pause and Reflect

Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England at Sunset during the Winter Solstice

The winter solstice occurs on December 21 making it an ideal time to take a break from the pre-Christmas rush and reflect on our place in the universe.

What is the Winter Solstice?

Having to do with Earth’s tilted axis and rotation around the sun, the winter solstice occurs when the North Pole is tilting furthest away from the sun. The winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. Its companion is the summer solstice marking the longest day and shortest night of the year.

In the Northern Hemisphere, we experience the winter solstice in December (20, 21, 22, or 23), while in the Southern Hemisphere it occurs in June. The winter solstice is also known as midwinter, which makes sense to me as it occurs in the middle of the coldest time of the year. In some countries, like the United States, the winter solstice marks the first calendar day of winter.

The word solstice has its origins in Latin and Old French combining sol (sun) with stit (stopped, stationary) to form solstitium and later the Middle English term solstice. The Earth does not actually stand still at the winter solstice. After the summer solstice, the days become shorter and shorter but as the winter solstice draws near the daily incremental change decreases until it reaches zero. Then the process reverses itself until the summer solstice.

The winter solstice is a harbinger of spring, birth, and new growth.

Winter Solstice Cultural Significance

In the Northern Hemisphere, cold and hunger were the constant companions of our ancestors from the time after the fall harvest to the spring growing season. Depending on where people lived, it would already be cold in October. If the harvest or hunting had been poor, people would worry about their food supplies lasting until spring.

The winter solstice was a momentous occurrence for our forebearers because it was a sign that they had made it to the zenith of winter and now they could look forward to longer and warmer days and that spring was ahead. The winter solstice was sort of an astronomical equivalent of “Hang in there everyone, things are going to get better.”

For thousands of years, people around the world have observed the winter solstice with rituals, ceremonies, and celebrations. Some of our ambitious ancestors erected monuments orienting them to coincide with the winter solstice sunrise or sunset, like Newgrange in Ireland and Stonehenge in England.

Nowadays, some celebrants travel to ancient sites to participate in winter solstice ceremonies, while others attend spiritual gatherings closer to home or take part in activities involving fire or ringing bells. The essential ingredient seems to be taking time out from our daily routines to honor Earth and reflect on our place in the solar system.

Take Time to Pause and Reflect

Our society seems to be perennially busy, constantly in motion, with people rarely sitting quietly and enjoying the moment.

Think about it. How often do you have the chance to just be?

By December 21, I suspect you and many other people might enjoy a respite from the pressures of year-end work deadlines, school final exams, and Christmas preparations.

Let’s take advantage of the winter solstice by pushing the pause button on our busy lives and expending some time reflecting on this wondrous planet we all call home and pondering our place in the universe.

“From out of the darkness and cold, the light…and hope return.” —Unknown

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Resources

Christmas – 10 Green Gifts for You and Planet Earth

Green Christmas Gift Box with Red Ribon and Bow

Living lightly on Earth and keeping it habitable is the best gift we can give the people we love. Try these green Christmas gift ideas or come up with your own.

Christmas is a season for giving, connecting with people, and having fun. These are also important aspects of environmentalism so why not combine them into a green Christmas. A gift can be an actual thing or it can be an action.

Green gifts for you and planet Earth is not an idea restricted to people who celebrate Christmas. Feel free to insert you own holiday wherever the word Christmas appears. You probably already realized this, but just in case, green gifting is perfect for any season or occasion.

Bring Your Own Bottle

If you have not kicked the bottled water habit yet, take this opportunity to do so. Buy yourself and everyone on your Christmas list a reusable water bottle or water filtering pitcher.

Chill with a Child

Select a book with an environmental or nature theme and read it with your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or kids from the neighborhood. The great thing about books is that they are reusable and can be re-gifted indefinitely. If you are not into buying a book, checking out a book at the local library is free and a librarian can help you find just the right book for your kids.

Three of my many favorites are The Lorax, So You Want to Grow a Taco, and Strange Trees: And the Stories Behind Them.

Delightful Dinners

Surely, you know at least one coworker, friend, or family member who would be delighted to receive a home cooked meal she or he can pop in the oven or microwave or just eat after coming home from a hectic day of work, shopping, or volunteering. Give yourself extra credit for providing everything in reusable containers.

Happy Holidays

Say hi, hello, or happy holidays to people hurrying by you in the store parking lot, to the harried looking clerk at the checkout counter, or to the technical service rep just before he or she transfers you to another department instead of fixing your problem.

There is no downside to showing a little kindness.

Labor of Love

Consider giving the gift or your labor. Installing a low-flow showerhead, squirting caulking around drafty window frames, or spreading wood chips in the garden are all things that someone might appreciate you doing.

If you are mechanically inclined or tech savvy, friends or family members struggling to assemble a gift for someone else or trying to set up a social media account will appreciate you coming to the rescue.

Make Mondays Meatless

You may not realize it but eating meat has a substantial negative impact on the environment and of course on the animals that are raised and killed for their meat. Give yourself, your family, and the planet a gift by eating vegetarian meals on Mondays or any other day of the week you choose.

Second Time Around

The most earth-friendly gift you can give someone is something that is not new. Making any product entails using resources, energy, and creating waste. Using things as long as possible reduces the need for making new products or at least it would if we gave more things a second life.

Granted, a computer from 1998 is probably not a good item to give. A set of vintage mixing bowls, a gently worn flannel shirt, or a slightly used board game (with all the pieces) might be just the thing for your green gift recipient.

As appealing as it might be to use this as a time to get rid of your old stuff, think twice and be mindful of why you are giving what to whom.

Smile at Someone

There is nothing more disarming than a smile and smiling lifts your own mood too. Try it on your stressed out boss who is freaking out about year-end sales, or the airline check-in attendant who just told you only center seats are available for your 4-hour flight, or the harried restaurant server who forgot part of your order.

Warm Up

During the winter, it seems like no matter how high you crank the heat the house never warms up to where you can walk around in a t-shirt. So help your loved ones warm up with gifts like scarves, sweaters, fingerless mittens, shawls, and slippers. I am a fan of throws those small blankets that are around 50” x 70” that you can wrap around your shoulders, tuck over your lap, or even cover yourself up with to take a nap.

Extra credit if the warm up item was previously worn or used or if it is made from a sustainable material like wool.

Walk on the Wild Side

Give yourself a gift by taking a break from your crazy schedule to enjoy a walk in the wilderness. If you can visit a state or national park fantastic, however, a neighborhood park, schoolyard, or your own garden will work, too.

Observe and listen. Getting to know the other living beings in nature besides people is important as we are all on this planet together.

“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.” —Dr. Seuss

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