The winter solstice falls on either the 20th, 21st, 22nd or 23rd December. This was a surprise to me when I looked it up for some facts to go with this blog post. I thought it was always on the 21st, but it’s often on the 22nd depending on which time zone you’re in. But either way, this makes this evening – the night between the 21st and the 22nd – the longest night of the year. After tonight, the days (very slowly) get longer.
There are many myths and legends which have grown up around the celebration of the day when the sun starts to rise in the sky again – from the Norwegian goddess Frigga, whose hard work was supposed to bring back the sunshine, the Druids building and worshipping at Stonehenge and of course, Saint Nicholas, who morphed (via a Coca Cola advert of all things) into a red-suited Father Christmas. Another intriguing one is the Nazca lines in Peru, some of which line up with the winter solstice. Created about 1,500 years ago, these vast drawings on the ground can only be seen properly from the air. Like Stonehenge, it’s a mystery of construction and purpose. How did they make it, and why?
Those practicing the pagan religion of Wicca celebrate the solstice as the time of the rebirth of the Great Horned Hunter God, and other legends suggest a wolf will be about. Every civilisation has some form of story which celebrates the fact that the winter is turning, that the sun will return and the spring will soon be with us. Christmas – or the birth of Christ – was moved from spring to the solstice to essentially hijack all the other celebrations and to make it more popular with the heathens the Christians were trying to convert.
But between then and now, before those celebrations can start, is the small matter of the longest night, a night with plenty of space for things to hide – the tree sprites who are being sheltered in your Christmas tree, perhaps. So look out of your window tonight – not for the man on the moon, but for other, spirit creatures. Tonight will be the night that they are about, all ready to celebrate, I hope. But some will be there for mischief, those who have – for now – lost the never-ending battle over the sun. Make sure your Christmas tree has plenty of bells so you can tell when the good sprites are there, because otherwise, who knows what might happen?