The SOLSTICE - the time when the sun (appears) to stand still - in ancient times a very frightening state of affairs!
Can you imagine how it must have felt to watch the days become shorter and shorter and darker and darker, with no change in sight?
The prospect of dwindling food supplies, ever increasing cold and lack of light, would have been terrifying!
No wonder the ancients resorted to trying to appease the Gods, to coax them to make the sun return, and with it the supply of food and warmth. By offering sacrifices, gifts, music and festivities they hoped to encourage the Gods to make the sun feel welcome and shine his beneficent rays on them once again.
For us, here in the 21st Century, with all our sophisticated satellite weather reporting, it may seem a very primitive idea, but for them it was very real. If you didn’t know about the Earth’s tilt and rotation, the idea of seasonal changes would seem totally incomprehensible!
Only the Astrologer priests had knowledge of these things, and thus had strong powers with the masses, being able to predict when such conditions would happen.
It is also easy to understand why the early church fathers chose this time to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
The similarities were sufficient to claim a connection –
* The Gods were able to influence the sun’s return to bring the light once more to bring life to the land ……………
God was sending His Son to save humanity from their darkness and death ………
As far as the people were concerned, there was only one sun – the one they could see, so it was logical that Jesus was called ‘the only Son of God’.
(Interestingly, the similarity between the words ‘sun’ and ‘son’ is repeated in their etymology and ancient language roots.)
* The idea of a Son of God being sent to earth as a gift for mankind, was a truly special gift, certainly one that warranted major celebrations - Christ’s Mass (Christ’s birth)
As the Saturnalia festival was popular in the Roman era, it was a good time to introduce the idea of celebration for the early church - it was already a set time of ritual and was observed by most of the population, the concepts built on an already established custom ………. And they fulfilled a hope for the masses, that things would improve if they adhered to the teachings.
Fast forward 2000+ years to today. We live in a very different world of technology and science. We know when the Seasons are going to change, and when we can predict patterns, we can better prepare and use the opportunities.
In today’s world, we all plan for summer holidays, winter breaks, buy new winter clothes and make sure our homes are prepared for a heatwave.
Unlike the people of old, we have some control - or do we?
We are facing major challenges with climate change further altering the earth’s atmosphere and liveability.
We cannot always predict the changes this will bring, or how far reaching they might be. Our crops might be wiped out by a freak weather incident – or by a climate-fuelled insect plague.
Sounds rather similar to back then?
Perhaps it is time to honour the natural rhythms of the Earth - the Solstices and Equinoxes, the moon phases, eclipses and the like? These are patterns which are common to us all, no matter what culture and religion we may or may not have had.
These patterns have been used to set the dates for many of our celebrations around the world - and we can easily see why.
Perhaps it is time to return to the source of the festivities, for they are universal, they are the things which unify us. Can you imagine if the whole world was able to acknowledge the Solstice as the time the Sun appeared to pause in its journey, to be still for a moment, and then start on its return as it has done for thousands of years?
No matter what other significance and celebration we may have added to the time, to feel we could pause , be still and meditate on our onward journey for a short while, before plunging head on into the next activity - and to know that many others everywhere in the world were doing likewise - would considerably change our attitude to the Earth and each other!
How about taking time to pause this Solstice time, to acknowledge the impact of the earth’s rhythms on us all, and give thanks that the Sun does appear to return after all?
Here in the Southern Hemisphere the Summer Solstice is 22nd December and is known as the longest day/shortest night.
In the Northern Hemisphere it is known as the Winter Solstice, and is the shortest day/longest night.