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Winter Solstice Celebrations

There are a variety of seasonal days of celebration during the month of December. Most are religious holy days, and are linked in some way to the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. On that day, due to the earth's tilt on its axis, the daytime hours are at a minimum in the Northern hemisphere, and night time is at a maximum.

The winter solstice occurs at the instant when the Sun's position in the sky is at its greatest angular distance on the other side of the equatorial plane from the observer's hemisphere. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradually lengthening nights and shortening days. Depending on the shift of the calendar, the winter solstice occurs sometime between December 21 and December 22 each year in the northern hemisphere, and between June 20 and June 21 in the southern hemisphere, during either the shortest day or longest night of the year. Though the winter solstice lasts an instant, the term is also colloquially used like "midwinter" to refer to the full 24-hour period of the day on which it occurs.



Buddhism

On December 8th, or on the Sunday immediately preceding, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day (a.k.a. Rohatsu). It recalls the day in 596 BCE, when the Buddha achieved enlightenment. This day is generally regarded as the birth day of Buddhism. Being an Eastern tradition, Bodhi Day has none of the associations with the solstice and seasonal changes found in other religious observances at this time of year. However, it does signify the point in time when the Buddha achieved enlightenment and escaped the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth through reincarnation— themes that are observed in other religions in December.

Islam

The actual date for the start of Ramadan depends upon the sighting of the crescent moon, and thus can be delayed by a few days from the nominal date. This is the holiest period in the Islamic year. It honors the lunar month in which the Qura'n was revealed by God to humanity. It is during this month that Muslims observe the Fast of Ramadan. Lasting for the entire month, Muslims fast during the daylight hours and in the evening eat small meals and visit with friends and family. It is a time of worship and contemplation—a time to strengthen family and community ties.

Christianity

Any record of the date of birth of Yeshua of Nazareth (later known as Jesus Christ) has been lost. There is sufficient evidence in the Gospels to indicate that Yeshua was born in the fall, but this seems to have been unknown to early Christians. By the beginning of the 4th century CE, there was intense interest in choosing a day to celebrate Yeshua's birthday. The western church leaders selected December 25th because this was already the date recognized throughout the Roman Empire as the birthday of various Pagan gods. Since there was no central Christian

Native American Spirituality

There are countless stone structures created by Natives in the past to detect the solstices and equinoxes. One was called Calendar One by its modern-day finder. It is in a natural amphitheatre of about 20 acres in size in Vermont. From a stone enclosure in the center of the bowl, one can see a number of vertical rocks and natural features in the horizon which formed the edge of the bowl. At the solstices and equinoxes, the sun rises and sets at notches or peaks in the ridge which surrounded the calendar.

Judaism

Jews celebrate an 8 day festival of Hanukkah, (a.k.a. Feast of Lights, Festival of lights, Feast of Dedication, Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hanukah). It recalls the war fought by the Maccabees in the cause of religious freedom. At the time of the solstice, they rededicated the Temple to a Pagan deity. Judah the Maccabee lead a band of rebels, and succeeding in retaking Jerusalem. They restored the temple and lit the menorah. It was exactly three years after the flame had been extinguished—at the time of the Pagan rite. Although they had found only sufficient consecrated oil to last for 24 hours, the flames burned steadily for eight days. Today's menorahs have nine branches; the ninth branch is for the shamash, or servant light, which is used to light the other eight candles.

Sources

Religious Tolerance
Winter Solstice

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