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Winter Solstice - The Shortest Day

rest and celebrate Dec 22, 2022
Wood block calendar set to December 21 with a blurred lit candle in the background

Today is the December solstice (winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere). In the Northern Hemisphere it’s the shortest day of the year. Starting tomorrow those of us who crave sunlight will get a little more of what we need, and those of us who prefer the dark will have reached their peak for the next 12 months.

The term solstice comes from the Latin word solstitium, which means 'the Sun stands still.' As the Sun reaches its southern-most position as seen from the Earth, it seems to stand still at the Tropic of Capricorn and then reverses its direction.

While many people talk about the winter solstice as an entire day, it’s actually a specific moment in time, when the sun is exactly over the Tropic of Capricorn. This year, that will be at 4:48PM ET

Cultures around the world have built monuments to and celebrated the solstices for thousands of years.


Stonehenge, England

Thousands of people travel to Stonehenge for the summer and winter solstices. Access to the site is free. And if you can’t travel there, English Heritage, a nonprofit that cares for historic buildings, monuments, and sites, will livestream the solstice sunrise on their YouTube channel tomorrow, December 22.

Newgrange, Ireland

Newgrange is a Stone Age monument built by a prosperous farming community about 5,200 years ago, making it older than both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza. This ancient temple was a place of astrological, spiritual, religious, and ceremonial importance. The passage and chamber are aligned so that the entire chamber is lit through what’s called a roof-box every morning for about 5 days around the winter solstice. Access to witness the event is determined by lottery in September, but others are welcome to gather outside.

Temple of the Sun at Machu Pichu, Peru

Machu Pichu is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World (based on an online popularity contest for historic sites from 2000 to 2007). The Temple of the Sun is one of the most sacred sites in one of the most visited cities in the world! The temple features two windows in the solar observatory that align with the solstices.

And there were celestial markers here in what is now the US.


Indigenous peoples in Cahokia (near today’s St. Louis) built temple pyramids or mounds, similar to the structures built by the Aztecs in Mexico, over a thousand years ago. One that stands out is called “Woodhenge,” a circle of huge wooden posts that align with the sun’s movements.




The Chinese celebrate Dongzhi (which means winter’s arrival) on the shortest day of the year. This unofficial holiday began as an end-of-harvest festival to pay respects to the ancestors, the gods, and the earth, and to celebrate longer days and the coming of a new year. They also count the Nines of Winter (it’s a folk song), believing that spring will come after nine periods of nine days after the solstice.

Shab-e Yalda

Yalda Night, also called Shab-e Yalda, is one of the oldest holidays in Iran. It celebrates the winter solstice or the sun’s rebirth or triumph over darkness. Families gather to eat and play games. Fresh fruit, especially, is a sign that the sun will prevail over the darkness, and board games like chess and backgammon are popular. Like other celebrations around the world, Iranians share stories of their ancestors.

The original name of Yalda Night was Shab-e Chelleh and it meant The Night of Forty. Chelleh meant Forty and referred to the winter solstice dividing the milder half of the cold season with the latter 40 days of harsh winter.


The Hopi People of northern Arizona celebrate the winter solstice as a time when Kachinas, spirits that guard over the Hopi, dance to “Establish Life Anew for All the World.” The Soyal Ceremony is the longest of the ceremonial cycle and can last up to 16 days. Sacred rituals are performed underground. People dance and sing, pass down stories, and each pivotal lessons to the children. The Hopi believe everything that will happen over the next year is arranged at the Soyal.

So Much in Common

What I noticed as I looked at the various temples and read about the different cultures is that we are so similar. We have the same needs – to be together, to pass down our history, to acknowledge our ancestors and nature, to share good food and play games as we stay warm. If our history and traditions can tell such similar stories, why do we let the minor differences create such drama? We can choose differently. I’m taking this slow time to think about how I want to manifest more love and focus on what connects me with others. Will you do the same?



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