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NOW COMES WINTER
As the end of each year comes to a close, we observe two special days, one being Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Christ. But there is another day, only four days before Christmas that often goes unnoticed, unless inclement weather gets our attention.
On each December 21, the Winter Solstice occurs. It is perhaps better known as the first day of winter. It is also the shortest day of the year. The word solstice literally means sun standing still. Winter is our coldest season of the year, but ironically, the earth is actually nearer the sun in January than it is in June during the summer, our hottest season. What causes this is what causes us to have four distinct seasons in our hemisphere. The earth has a slight tilt on its axis, which causes it to spin off kilter. If you want to be precise, astronomers say it is 23 degrees and 27 minutes off the plane of orbit. This determines the amount of sunlight a hemisphere receives.
In ancient times, the winter solstice was observed with much more fervor than it is today. Centuries ago in some cultures, elaborate festivals were held. Alarmed by the colder weather, shorter days with less and less sunlight, and long, dark nights, some were convinced that they had done some terrible wrong and as punishment, the sun was leaving the sky never to return. Large bonfires were lit with rituals held pleading to whatever god they believed in to make the sun return.
In some cultures, Christmas and winter became intertwined. The Mesopotamians held such a festival that lasted twelve days, thought by some to be the origin of the twelve days of Christmas. Christmas and the Winter Solstice seemed to be transplanted more by the Germans. Since the first day of winter is also the shortest day of the year, that means that each succeeding day is longer until the Summer Solstice arrives in late June. A saying said to be some 1600 years old credited to the Germans summed it up: The rebirth of the sun, the birth of the Son.
In the early days of the Christian church, members were persecuted heavily for practicing their faith, often being put to death by whatever nation was over them at the time. Most of those pagan nations held winter festivals to worship a so called Sun God, imploring him to make the sun return. This was practiced at the occurrence of the Winter Solstice on December 21, and is said to possibly have had something to do with us celebrating Christmas on December 25. The early Christians did not want to participate in the pagan rituals concerning winter, but did want to celebrate the birth of Christ. It seems they may have found a way to do both. By not celebrating on December 21, they did not participate in any pagan rituals, but did celebrate four days later the observance of Christmas. This led their pagan captors to think they were celebrating with them, when in fact; they were secretly worshipping God for the birth of his Son.
had an unusually warm November and December and may be
lulled into a false sense of security by the mild
weather. Do not be
fooled, winter does not usually miss its engagement and
will appear sometime. Some
of the old timers said that some of the coldest weather
and biggest snows followed a mild onset at the beginning
of winter. So be
forewarned, the winter solstice occurred on December 21,
now comes winter.