Shedding light on the winter solstice

Sir, – Today’s winter solstice, December 21st, is the day of least daylight in the calendar year. Astronomers maintain that winter solstice marks the end of autumn and the start of winter. In meteorology winter begins a little earlier, spanning December, January and February.

The sun shines over the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere during the winter solstice, which occurs when the North Pole is tilted furthest away from the sun. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is that the days now gradually become longer and the nights shorter. Although winter is the dormant season of darkness and cold, the winter solstice marks the “turning of the sun” and the days slowly get longer.

Celebrations of returning light are common in history with feasts, festivals and holidays around the time of the winter solstice. In pre-Christian times pagans held a 12-day festival at winter solstice to celebrate the rebirth of the sun god. The Feast of Juul was another pre-Christian festival observed in Scandinavia at winter solstice. Fires were lit to symbolise the heat, light- and life-giving properties of the returning sun. A Yule (Juul) log was burned to honour the Scandinavian god Thor.

Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day, December 25th, when we decorate our homes and communities with lights and stars to welcome the birth of the “true light of the world.” Similar to the old 12-day pagan festivals celebrating the rebirth of the sun god at winter solstice, Christians celebrate the “12 days of Christmas” to welcome the birth of Jesus Christ.


The rebirth of light, whether spiritual or temporal, will brighten the way for people of all religions and none during this festive season. The light will shine brighter if we share just a fraction of our time and our resources with others, especially the needy, the lonely and the homeless this Christmas season. – Yours, etc,


Spa, Tralee, Co Kerry.