Looking Up: Long Night's Journey Into Day

Dec 19, 2016

Father Winter Solstice
Credit by Kumar / http://freecoloringpages4uer.blogspot.com

This week on Looking Up guest host Bruce Bookout sheds light on the longest night of the year and how it's celebrated by other cultures.  

Our Colorado nights are getting deep and as we get to the longest night of the year every culture celebrates the winter solstice differently.  Solstice comes from latin, meaning “the sun” and “to stand still”. Because the winter solstice is also an event that marks the return of the sun’s presence in the sky, it has been connected with renewal, birth, sun gods, and life-death-rebirth deities. There are traditional celebrations that give people hope sunny days lay ahead.

In ancient Rome, the weeklong feast of Saturnalia honored the sun god Saturn. Ancient Greeks held a similar festival called Lenaea.

Celts believed the sun stood still for 12 days, making it necessary to light a log fire to conquer the darkness.

Scandinavia's Norsemen called the holiday “Yule.”  Families would light Yule logs where they would eat until the log burned out – which could take up to 12 days. Each spark was believed to represent a new pig or calf that would be born in the New Year.

Germanic peoples would celebrate the winter festival by honoring the god Odin. Many believed he would fly through the night sky (on a magical flying horse) and determine who would be blessed or cursed in the coming year. Many decided to stay indoors, fearing Odin’s wrath.

For the Maya it is an important time for rebirth, reflection, and renewal as the end of one cosmic cycle arrives with the beginning of a new cycle. 

For the Hopi and Navajo, the winter solstice marks a special storytelling time. They describe the sun as “in the south corner of time”.

Among the Iroquois, it was a time of dreaming. Rather than staying up all night to celebrate the dawn, they turned in early, to sleep, to dream. As Mother Night reigned supreme, in dreaming they walked between the worlds of light and darkness, gathering great meaning from The Great Mystery. At first light, the entire tribe would gather and each tribal member -- men, women, to the smallest child -- would stand and relate what visions they saw on this special night.

Puebloians celebrated with the Soyal Solstice Ceremony; a time to make offerings, prayers and powerful supplications to the spirits for protection.  The Soyal Solstice Ceremony is a supplication to the sun but other winter solstice dance ceremonies, such as the Buffalo and Deer Dance, are strongly associated with hunting, in which the Pueblo harmonize with the animal world by imitating animals in both dress and movement.

Celebrating the solstice has been a way to renew our connection with each other through acts of goodwill, special rituals, and an awareness that the long night will pass.

If you’d like to take a closer look at our Winter skies, please visit CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties! 

This is Bruce Bookout for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!