or many bygone civilizations, the summer solstice—the longest day of the year—was endowed with great significance. People celebrated this special day, which falls in June in the northern hemisphere and is also known as midsummer, with festivals, celebrations and other observances, some of which still survive or have experienced a revival in modern times.
According to certain iterations of the Greek calendar—they varied widely by region and era—the summer solstice was the first day of the year. Several festivals were held around this time, including Kronia, which celebrated the agriculture god Cronus. The strict social code was temporarily turned on its head during Kronia, with slaves participating in the merriment as equals or even being served by their masters. The summer solstice also marked the one-month countdown to the opening of the Olympic games.
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The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year and is also traditionally understood to be the beginning of winter. This year, the solstice will occur on Dec. 21st, and according to a timetable created by the Astronomical Applications Department of the U.S. Naval Observatory, people in New York will only experience 9 hours and 15 minutes of daylight all day. Those in the U.K. will only have 7 hours and 49 minutes of daylight.
The solstice (also known as Yule) has been celebrated as a pagan holiday for thousands of years, and in all actuality, many of the Christmas traditions that seem to be so tightly intertwined with the Christian holiday itself are actually “borrowed” from the pagans. (And by borrowed, we mean condemned and then eventually repurposed). Want to find out which of your favorite Christmas traditions are actually steeped in the pagan celebration of the solstice?
The Christmas tree or the Yule tree?…
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