Speaking of revelry, the marking of the winter solstice has been ritualized by many cultures throughout history, and some practices persist into modern times. A number of ceremonies involve the lighting of fires and candles to encourage--and then celebrate--the return of the Sun after that longest night.
Image from The Book of Days
Diagram by the YPOP Solar Classroom
Here’s some exciting news for those of you who didn’t win the lottery. Because it is the 40th anniversary of the discovery of the solstice phenomenon at Newgrange, the illumination of the chamber will be broadcast for the first time this year via webcast and satellite transmission, on both Friday, December 21 and Saturday the 22nd. Of course, the harsh reality of the time difference is that the event will occur in the wee hours of the morning for those of us in North America. No guts, no glory, so lay in a store of your favorite high-test java.
Here’s another way to celebrate the winter solstice, in your own time zone. You can participate in the 2007 Cassini Favorite Image Contest by voting for your favorite images of Saturn and its moons. The voting deadline is December 30, and you’ll have a chance to win a poster of the top color image.
Saturn image by CICLOPS
But what, you ask, does that have to do with the winter solstice? Well, the winter solstice festival in ancient Rome was the rather raucous Saturnalia, dedicated to the god of agriculture, none other than, yup you guessed it, Saturn. Historians believe that the Catholic Church selected December 25 as the date of the birth of Jesus in order to absorb the established traditions of the month-long pagan Saturnalia festival, which already encompassed that date.
Sun image by OSPAN/AFRLSVD/NSO
Astronomically speaking, the winter solstice represents a turning point in the Earth’s year: the ‘return’ of the Sun from its southern decline. So too we bounce back, with all the frantic optimism of our year-end resolutions, moving again toward spring, following the Sun.