Tag: Winter solstice

That Winter Solstice

Good people, this is mid-Winter.

(Northern Hemisphere only.)

OK, not in the sense of weather because the worse is yet to come I’m sure. But in terms of the movement of the Planet Earth in its orbit around the Sun. And that’s what matters!

This is a really ancient moment as the following article published in The Conversation explains in much more detail.


What winter solstice rituals tell us about indigenous people

By    Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, The University of Montana

December 13th, 2018.

On the day of winter solstice, many Native American communities will hold religious ceremonies or community events.

The winter solstice is the day of the year when the Northern Hemisphere has the fewest hours of sunlight and the Southern Hemisphere has the most. For indigenous peoples, it has been a time to honor their ancient sun deity. They passed their knowledge down to successive generations through complex stories and ritual practices.

As a scholar of the environmental and Native American religion, I believe, there is much to learn from ancient religious practices.

Ancient architecture

For decades, scholars have studied the astronomical observations that ancient indigenous people made and sought to understand their meaning.

One such place was at Cahokia, near the Mississippi River in what is now Illinois across from St. Louis.

The Cahokia mounds. Doug Kerr, CC BY-SA

In Cahokia, indigenous people built numerous temple pyramids or mounds, similar to the structures built by the Aztecs in Mexico, over a thousand years ago. Among their constructions, what most stands out is an intriguing structure made up of wooden posts arranged in a circle, known today as “Woodhenge.”

To understand the purpose of Woodhenge, scientists watched the sun rise from this structure on winter solstice. What they found was telling: The sun aligned with both Woodhenge and the top of a temple mound – a temple built on top of a pyramid with a flat top – in the distance. They also found that the sun aligns with a different temple mound on summer solstice.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the people of Cahokia venerated the sun as a deity. Scholars believe that ancient indigenous societies observed the solar system carefully and wove that knowledge into their architecture.

Scientists have speculated that the Cahokia held rituals to honor the sun as a giver of life and for the new agricultural year.

Complex understandings

Zuni Pueblo is a contemporary example of indigenous people with an agricultural society in western New Mexico. They grow corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and more. Each year they hold annual harvest festivals and numerous religious ceremonies, including at the winter solstice.

At the time of the winter solstice they hold a multiday celebration, known as the Shalako festival. The days for the celebration are selected by the religious leaders. The Zuni are intensely private, and most events are not for public viewing.

But what is shared with the public is near the end of the ceremony, when six Zuni men dress up and embody the spirit of giant bird deities. These men carry the Zuni prayers for rain “to all the corners of the earth.” The Zuni deities are believed to provide “blessings” and “balance” for the coming seasons and agricultural year.

As religion scholar Tisa Wenger writes, “The Zuni believe their ceremonies are necessary not just for the well-being of the tribe but for “the entire world.”

Winter games

Not all indigenous peoples ritualized the winter solstice with a ceremony. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t find other ways to celebrate.

The Blackfeet tribe in Montana, where I am a member, historically kept a calendar of astronomical events. They marked the time of the winter solstice and the “return” of the sun or “Naatosi” on its annual journey. They also faced their tipis – or portable conical tents – east toward the rising sun.

They rarely held large religious gatherings in the winter. Instead the Blackfeet viewed the time of the winter solstice as a time for games and community dances. As a child, my grandmother enjoyed attending community dances at the time of the winter solstice. She remembered that each community held their own gatherings, with unique drumming, singing and dance styles.

Later, in my own research, I learned that the Blackfeet moved their dances and ceremonies during the early reservation years from times on their religious calendar to times acceptable to the U.S. government. The dances held at the time of the solstice were moved to Christmas Day or to New Year’s Eve.

The solstice. Divad, from Wikimedia Commons

Today, my family still spends the darkest days of winter playing card games and attending the local community dances, much like my grandmother did.

Although some winter solstice traditions have changed over time, they are still a reminder of indigenous peoples understanding of the intricate workings of the solar system. Or as the Zuni Pueblo’s rituals for all peoples of the earth demonstrate – of an ancient understanding of the interconnectedness of the world.


Let me pick up on the last sentence: “Or as the Zuni Pueblo’s rituals for all peoples of the earth demonstrate – of an ancient understanding of the interconnectedness of the world.”

We are all of us interconnected across the world. We have been for a very long time.

The importance of understanding this, truly understanding this, is critical to our future.

Our Winter Solstice.

Is the moment of publishing this post.

I thought it would make a nice change to publish tomorrow’s post a little earlier than usual. To be precise to publish it on Dec. 22, at 04:48, Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Or in our local Pacific Standard Time (PST) UTC-8 hrs or 20:48 Dec. 21., i.e. 20:48 on the evening of the 21st December. (I am seeing the exact time being declared as 04:48 or 04:49 UTC depending on what you read.)

Granted that the Northern Hemisphere tends to deliver the worst of the Winter weather after the shortest day, it still is good to know that for the next six months, the hours of daylight, in the Northern Hemisphere, will be increasing.

My inclination to write a post on the topic was greatly influenced by a most beautiful post over on Val Boyco’s blogsite. It was called And Winter Came.  Here’s the video that Val included in her post.

Isn’t that a most beautiful few minutes!

Impossible to top that!

But I can continue including an informative item that was published over on Mother Nature News, and is republished here within the terms of MNN.


8 things to know about the winter solstice

From when it happens to why, here’s your crash course on the shortest day of the year.

By: Melissa Breyer, December 18, 2015

Hello, winter. (Photo: psynovec/Shutterstock)
Hello, winter. (Photo: psynovec/Shutterstock)

“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night,” quipped Steve Martin – and indeed, even a day with less sunshine can feel a bit dark. Our world depends on the light radiating from that big star we traipse around, and when it’s in short supply, we feel it. But if you count yourself amongst those who don’t love waking up before the sun rises and getting off work after it has set, things are about to lighten up. Hello, winter solstice!

Although winter is really just beginning, we can at least say goodbye to these short little days we’ve been suffering (and don’t let the door hit you on the way out). With that in mind, here’s a collection of curious facts to celebrate the long-awaited return to longer days.

1. There are actually two winter solstices every year

It’s sometimes easy to be hemisphere-o-centric, but the other side of the planet gets a winter solstice too. With the planet’s orbit tilted on its axis, Earth’s hemispheres swap who gets direct sun over the course of a year. Even though the Northern Hemisphere is closer to the sun during the winter, it’s the tilt away from the sun that causes cold temperatures and less light — which is when the Southern Hemisphere is toasty. So while our winter solstice is on Dec. 21 or 22, the Southern Hemisphere celebrates the same on June 21 or 22.

Here’s how that looks from space (kind of):

2. The winter solstice happens in the blink of an eye

Although the solstice is marked by a whole day on the calendar, it’s actually just the brief moment when the sun is exactly over the Tropic of Capricorn that the event occurs.

3. Which is why it happens on different days in the same year

What? Yes! In 2015, the solstice happens on Dec. 22, at 04:49 on the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) time clock, the time standard that the world regulates its hours by. Which means any location that is at least five hours behind UTC should break out the party hats on Dec. 21. For example, in the United States the winter solstice happens on Dec. 21 at 11:49 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The rest of the time zones can welcome longer days beginning on the 22nd.

4. It’s the first day of winter … or it’s not, depending on whom you ask

Meteorologists consider the first day of winter to be Dec. 1, but ask an astronomer — or just about anyone else — and they’ll likely answer that the winter solstice marks the start of the season. There are two ways to look at it: meteorological seasons and astronomical seasons. Meteorological seasons are based on the annual temperature cycle, explains NOAA, while astronomical seasons are based on the position of the Earth in relation to the sun.

5. It’s a time of gloriously long shadows

Shadows are at their playful best on the solstice. (Photo: Mike Page/flickr)
Shadows are at their playful best on the solstice. (Photo: Mike Page/flickr)

If you’re inclined to take pleasure in the little things, like shadows that seem cast from a funhouse mirror, then the winter solstice is the time for you. It’s now that the sun is at its lowest arc across the sky and thus, shadows from its light are at their longest. (Imagine a flashlight directly above your head and one hitting you from the side, and picture the respective shadows.) And in fact, your noontime shadow on the solstice is the longest it will be all year. Relish those long legs while you can.

6. Full solstice moons are rarer than blue ones

Since 1793, the full moon has only occurred on the winter solstice 10 times, according to the Farmer’s Almanac. The last one was in 2010, which was also a lunar eclipse! The next full moon on a winter solstice won’t be until 2094.

7. There’s a Christmas connection

Since Christ wasn’t issued a birth certificate, there’s no record of the date when he was supposed to have been born. Meanwhile, humans have been celebrating the winter solstice throughout history — the Romans had their feast of Saturnalia, early German and Nordic pagans had their yuletide celebrations. Even Stonehenge has connections to the solstice. But eventually Christian leaders, endeavoring to attract pagans to their faith, added Christian meaning to these traditional festivals. Many Christmas customs, like the Christmas tree, can be directly traced to solstice celebrations.

8. It’s a reminder to thank Copernicus

Will the real Saint Nick please step forward? (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Will the real Saint Nick please step forward? (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The word “solstice” comes from the Latin solstitium, meaning “point at which the sun stands still.” Since when has the sun ever moved?! Of course, before Renaissance astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (aka “super smartypants”) came up with the ‘ol heliocentric model, we all figured that everything revolved around the Earth, sun included. Our continued use of the word “solstice” is a beautiful reminder of just how far we’ve come and provides a nice opportunity to give a tip of the hat to great thinkers who challenged the status quo.

And now go have some hot cocoa. Happy winter!


Only one way to close. That is with this picture of the sun perfectly aligned with the stones at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, UK at the moment of the Winter Solstice.

The December solstice happens at the same instant for all of us, everywhere on Earth. This year the solstice occurs on Tuesday December 22nd at 04:49 GMT (Universal time) with the sun rising over Stonehenge in Wiltshire at 08:04.
The December solstice happens at the same instant for all of us, everywhere on Earth. This year the solstice occurs on Tuesday December 22nd at 04:49 GMT (Universal time) with the sun rising over Stonehenge in Wiltshire at 08:04.

Stay safe and warm wherever you are.

The next post from Learning from Dogs will be published at 00:00 PST Wednesday, 23rd December.

Ancient rhythms.

The Winter Solstice.

I’m breaking the pattern of publishing a new post at midnight, Pacific Time, (08:00 UTC) because it seemed like fun to publish Monday’s post at the moment of the Winter Solstice; namely Sunday, December 21 at 23:03 UTC (15:03 PST).

There is no doubt in my mind that everyone is familiar with the Winter Solstice being the moment when the planet has perfect opposites, in terms of light and darkness, as the following image shows so clearly.

Day and night sides of Earth at the instant of the December 2014 solstice (2014 December 21 at 23:03 Universal Time). Note that the north polar region of Earth must endure 24 hours of night, while the south polar region gets to bask in 24 hours of daylight. Image credit: Earth and Moon Viewer
Day and night sides of Earth at the instant of the December 2014 solstice (2014 December 21 at 23:03 Universal Time). Note that the north polar region of Earth must endure 24 hours of night, while the south polar region gets to bask in 24 hours of daylight. Image credit: Earth and Moon Viewer

What may not be so well-known is that it occurs within about two-and-a-half hours of the new moon.

From times immemorial, early peoples on Earth knew much about the sun and the seasons, the length of daylight, and how the direction of the sunrise and sunset all shifted in a regular way throughout the year. As an Englishman, who in past times frequently drove the A303 road between London and Exeter, going past the ancient site of Stonehenge was always wonderful. Many are familiar with the sun rising during the Summer Solstice over the Heel Stone but far fewer realise that Stonehenge also marks the sun’s dawning the morning after the Winter Solstice.

The shortest day is behind us.


The English Heritage website Discover Stonehenge is brim full of facts and information so won’t ‘copy and paste’ from one to the other! Suffice to say that what we see today was completed about 3500 years ago.

However, it seems as though the ancient site is still delivering new surprises.  I write this simply because just a few days ago, on the 19th December, 2014, the BBC reported:

Stonehenge dig finds 6,000-year-old encampment

Archaeologists found the encampment during a dig at Blick Mead near Stonehenge
Archaeologists found the encampment during a dig at Blick Mead near Stonehenge

Archaeologists working on a site near Stonehenge say they have found an untouched 6,000-year-old encampment which “could rewrite British history”.

David Jacques, from the University of Buckingham, made the discovery at Blick Mead in October, and said the carbon dating results had just been confirmed.

But he also raised concerns about possible damage to the site over plans to build a road tunnel past Stonehenge.

The Department of Transport said it would “consult before any building”.

The Blick Mead site is about 1.5 miles (2.4km) from Stonehenge and archaeologists said “scientifically tested charcoal” dug up from the site had “revealed that it dated from around 4000 BC”.

The archaeologists found burnt flints, remains of animals and tools
The archaeologists found burnt flints, remains of animals and tools

David Jacques said the dig had also found “evidence of feasting” including burnt flints, tools and remains of giant cattle, known as aurochs, which were eaten by early hunter gatherers.

Mr Jacques said: “British pre-history may have to be rewritten. This is the latest dated Mesolithic encampment ever found in the UK.

“Blick Mead site connects the early hunter gatherer groups returning to Britain after the Ice Age to the Stonehenge area, all the way through to the Neolithic in the late 5th Millennium BC.

“But our only chance to find out about the earliest chapter of Britain’s history could be wrecked if the tunnel goes ahead.”

Archaeologists said the latest carbon date suggested it was continuously occupied between 7500-4000 BC
Archaeologists said the latest carbon date suggested it was continuously occupied between 7500-4000 BC

Andy Rhind-Tutt, a former mayor and current chairman of Amesbury Museum, which part-funded the dig, said the discovery could “provide what archaeologists have been searching for centuries – the answer to the story of the pre-history of Stonehenge.”

Earlier this month, the government announced funding for a 1.8-mile (2.9km) tunnel to remove congestion from the main road past Stonehenge.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “As with any road scheme, we will consult with interested parties before any building begins on the A303.

“English Heritage and National Trust are supportive of our plans, and we will ensure sites of cultural or historical significance are safeguarded as we progress with the upgrade.”

The A303 past Stonehenge is a highly congested route.
The A303 past Stonehenge is a highly congested route.

So as the planet and the sun continue their dance to a rhythm, ancient beyond comprehension, let us reflect on the scale of the universe and our fortune to be alive this Winter Solstice, 2014.

That beautiful lunar eclipse

As it happens, here in Payson at 01:15 am on the morning of Tuesday, 21st December, low broken cloud was obscuring the moon much of the time.  But nonetheless the pale outline of the darkened moon was visible, sitting above the constellation of Orion.  Very, very mystical.

Here’s what it looked like without the cloud, thanks to a Google search for images.

Dec 21st 1638; Dec 21st 2010; Dec 21st 2094

And a late update, thanks to Pete N (via Facebook) who spotted this wonderful video recently placed on YouTube.

which then highlighted this video taken by the Kurdistan Planetarium – these are amazing examples of the power of our new virtual world in sharing images across so many peoples.

Solstice Lunar Eclipse

(Again, thanks to Dan G for highlighting this.)

If you want to see this solar eclipse then read the times carefully – to assist, I am publishing this Post much earlier than normal, at 18:00 US Mountain Time (UTC -7hrs) on Monday, 20th December.  Oh, and more information at Spacedex here.

by Dr. Tony Phillips
Reprinted from http://science.nasa.gov ( but this link address is better. Ed.)

Dec. 17, 2010:  Everyone knows that “the moon on the breast of new-fallen snow gives the luster of mid-day to objects below.”

That is, except during a lunar eclipse.

The luster will be a bit “off” on Dec. 21st, the first day of northern winter, when the full Moon passes almost dead-center through

A similar lunar eclipse in Nov. 2003. Credit: Jim Fakatselis.

Earth’s shadow. For 72 minutes of eerie totality, an amber light will play across the snows of North America, throwing landscapes into an unusual state of ruddy shadow.

The eclipse begins on Tuesday morning, Dec. 21st, at 1:33 am EST (Monday, Dec. 20th, at 10:33 pm PST). At that time, Earth’s shadow will appear as a dark-red bite at the edge of the lunar disk. It takes about an hour for the “bite” to expand and swallow the entire Moon. Totality commences at 02:41 am EST (11:41 pm PST) and lasts for 72 minutes.

If you’re planning to dash out for only one quick look — it is December, after all — choose this moment: 03:17 am EST (17 minutes past midnight PST). That’s when the Moon will be in deepest shadow, displaying the most fantastic shades of coppery red.

Credit: F. Espenak, NASA/GSFC.

From first to last bite, the eclipse favors observers in North America. The entire event can be seen from all points on the continent. Click to view a world map of visibility circumstances. Credit: F. Espenak, NASA/GSFC.

Why red?

A quick trip to the Moon provides the answer: Imagine yourself standing on a dusty lunar plain looking up at the sky. Overhead hangs Earth, nightside down, completely hiding the sun behind it. The eclipse is underway. You might expect Earth seen in this way to be utterly dark, but it’s not. The rim of the planet is on fire! As you scan your eye around Earth’s circumference, you’re seeing every sunrise and every sunset in the world, all of them, all at once. This incredible light beams into the heart of Earth’s shadow, filling it with a coppery glow and transforming the Moon into a great red orb.

Back on Earth, the shadowed Moon paints newly fallen snow with unfamiliar colors–not much luster, but lots of beauty.

Enjoy the show.

Coincidences (UPDATED): This lunar eclipse falls on the date of the northern winter solstice. How rare is that? Total lunar eclipses in northern winter are fairly common. There have been three of them in the past ten years alone. A lunar eclipse smack-dab on the date of the solstice, however, is unusual. Geoff Chester of the US Naval Observatory inspected a list of eclipses going back 2000 years. “Since Year 1, I can only find one previous instance of an eclipse matching the same calendar date as the solstice, and that is 1638 DEC 21,” says Chester. “Fortunately we won’t have to wait 372 years for the next one…that will be on 2094 DEC 21.