Winter Solstice 2009: Contemplating the Darkest Day

Spiritual reflections and Wiccan debunking on the shortest day of the year

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Despite the snow, winter didn't "officially" start until today--December 21st. (The sun hit its lowest point at 12:47, to be precise.) This day marks the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Call it seasonal affective disorder, or the rumblings of seasonal spirits, but the solstice is bringing out some unusual reflections, worries, and musings.

  • Solstice a Cause for Religious Contemplation, writes James Carroll in the Boston Globe. "Contemplations of the winter solstice once opened into religion, which is why the cultic festivals of light define the secular space this week...When mystical wonder was walled off from measurable observation, science restricted its range, and religion anathematized critical thinking - disasters both. But the festivals this week, sparked by this morning's dawn, call to mind the age-old spaciousness of informed imagination. Happily, it remains so. Knowledge is holy. Season's greetings."
  • Christmas Timed to Take Over Pagan Solstice Holidays, Brian Handwerk says at National Geographic. "Early church leaders endeavored to attract pagans to Christianity by adding Christian meaning to existing winter solstice festivals.'This gave rise to an interesting play on words,' Yeide said. 'In several languages, not just in English, people have traditionally compared the rebirth of the sun with the birth of the son of God.'"
  • Bring on the Misery, writes Kevin Connor at the Toronto Sun. "Winter misery begins...If you hate winter, today is officially the first day you can say so."
  • But at Least There Will Be More Daylight, says Phil Plait at Discover Magazine.  "The good news here is that if you live above the equator, the days're getting longer after today: the Sun will stay up a wee bit more every day. And that means soon it'll be spring (when eggs will stand on end, just like they do EVERY FRAKKIN' DAY), and then summer and then autumn and then we'll be right back here again, as the Earth has done time and again, billions of times, and will continue to do so until the Sun swells into a red giant and consumes it in a fiery blaze of overwhelming solar red gigantism."
  • Wiccans Celebration of Solstice Based on Lies, argues Mark Oppenheimer in a popular 2005 post in Slate. "The rare Wiccan belief that pans out is that Christmas is an adaptation of a solstice celebration...But in reaching for a usable past, Wiccans trumpet numerous other historical claims that are entirely without merit...So long as Wiccans are hung up on whether Christmas is derived from old solstice rites (it is) or whether Christendom murdered 9 million alleged witches from the 14th to the 18th centuries (not even close), the religion will seem a little absurd."
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