December 21st is the day of winter solstice this year. Some years it can be the 20th or 22nd, generally will occur about 6 hours later each year, with a jump of a day (backwards) on leap years.
It is the day with the shortest amount of daylight or longest amount of darkness. Being optimistic, the days now start getting longer. It is the official start of winter, but it is not the coldest. This comes in a few months. The heat from the sun takes some time to get here!
Note that those in the southern hemisphere are experiencing the opposite.
This rebirth of the sun, or the slow build to brighter days, has been acknowledged by mankind since our Neolithic days. Celebrations have been happening around the world.
Saturnalia, the most popular holiday on the ancient Roman calendar incorporated a winter solstice. There were gifts, particularly candles, sacrifices to the gods, decorating of homes, new clothes, season. Worked stopped. There was a role reversal of slaves and masters. Many of our Christmas traditions derived from these practices.
Yule has been a two month pagan winter festival celebrated by Germanic peoples. And present day, there may be a celebration of Yule from the day of winter solstice, for 12 days, by those observing the Wiccan or neopagan traditions.
Yalda Night is an ancient Persian celebration to mark the winter solstice. Family gathers together, eating typically nuts, pomegranates and watermelons, and reciting poetry of the mystic Hafez.
Dong Zhi, is celebrated in China. It welcomes the return of longer days and an increase in positive energy in the year to come. Traditional dishes of rice balls, and meat dumplings are enjoyed.
Blue Christmas or Longest Night, is part of western Christian tradition. A church service include opportunities for expression of grief, pain and loss, with offering a promise of hope. Candles are lit. There may be empty chairs, commemorating those who have been lost during the previous year. It may be celebrated on another day, close to Christmas.
We now have artificial lights, sources of heat, and food. We no longer fear winter starvation. We are removed from nature’s cycles.
Maybe this year we should be dormant for a period. We need to listen to the intelligence of nature, and be still, reflect, have peace in the darkness, be content in the silence, and wait for the return of brighter days.