Today is the Winter Solstice- the shortest day of the year and also the first day of Winter, when the earth’s northern hemisphere is tilting at its maximum angle away from the sun. This evening, the sun will set at 5:46pm, which is the earliest it will set all year. Many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or at least are in worse moods when we have less sunlight. So isn’t it a refreshing thought that the shortest days already over, and from here on out it will only get better? Starting tomorrow, the days will get longer and we’ll have more sunlight each day. In our busy modern lives, shorter days are an inconvenience and add to our stress because we feel like we have even less time to cram in all our chores, errands, work, and other responsibilities.
However, shorter days are not necessarily a bad thing. The Winter Solstice was an ancient pagan holiday that celebrated nature. Ancient cultures revolved around the cycles of nature, and accordingly there were ancient cultures all around the world that had some sort of celebration on this day (in the southern hemisphere, they were held in June). When early Christian leaders were attempting to spread their faith, that is why they chose a date very close to the Winter Solstice for Christmas- an attempt to Christianize an ancient pagan holiday that celebrated nature. Although these ancient celebrations around the globe were greatly varied, they all had one thing in common- welcoming the return of the sun and the new cycle of growth it would bring.
In modern practice, the Winter Solstice itself is not very commonly celebrated, but there are some nature-focused spiritual groups that do celebrate it. These groups adapt the ancient traditions to modern times as much as possible, while still honoring the original ancient spirit of it. Most of these modern adaptations focus on family bonding, personal reflection, appreciation of nature, honoring of one’s ancestors, and hopefulness for the new year.
Even if you are not a member of any nature-focused spiritual group, these ideas are widely applicable to many groups of people and can easily be incorporated into other winter holidays like Christmas. For many people, the most important part of Christmas (that can also add a lot of pressure) is bonding with family. Appreciate your family this holiday season, put differences behind you, and reach out to those who do not have family. These colder and shorter days when it might not be comfortable to go outside are also a great time for personal reflection, like meditation or journaling. We have books to help you find inspiration on this here at the McAllen Public Library. This is also a great time of year to enjoy nature. Here in the Rio Grande Valley the summers are really too hot to spend time outside, but we are lucky enough to have winters that are usually very mild. Appreciate nature by visiting one of our many national and state parks. It is also a great time to learn more about your genealogy and your ancestors, and you can begin that search with the McAllen Public Library’s online genealogy resources.
Finally, the Winter Solstice and winter holidays in general are also a time to be hopeful. This was a difficult year for many people, for a multitude of reasons. Staying well-informed about the news and current events, both here in the United States and around the world, is extremely important and is something we encourage here at the McAllen Public Library. However, there are a lot of problems in the world right now, and it can leave you with a sense of hopelessness. It is important to remember that you are not alone, there are a lot of good people in the world, and good things are happening all the time that just don’t get reported in the news. Just as the returning sun will bring new life in the Spring, things will eventually get better for us as well.