The second solstice of 2015 will occur exactly tomorrow and tonight. You read that correctly. Our biannual Solstices are precise events that can be measured and predicted by astronomers and anyone who understands the planetary dynamics and statistics of our home planet.
Why did I write that the solstice will happen exactly tomorrow and tonight? That’s easy to answer, Time Zones. The December 2015 solstice is at 04:48 UTC December 22nd. Since Universal Time is reckoned for the Prime Meridian (coincides with Greenwich Mean Time), we can easily see that 04:48 UTC will be different from times in different local standard zones.
For example, when it’s 4:48 AM on December 22nd in London, UK, we subtract six hours for Norfolk, Nebraska in the US Central Time Zone and come up with 10:48 PM on December 21st. Hence, solstice occurs simultaneously on two calendar dates. My wall calendars’ December pages signify the First Day of Winter is the 22nd. This is so because of the Prime Meridian calculation and because the 22nd will be the first full day of Winter.
Of course, South of the Equator, their December calendars say that day is the First Day of Summer. Because the Web is global in scope, I’m careful to use the name Solstice rather than the names of the seasons when I write about astronomical events.
We are familiar with the facts regarding the lengthening and shortening of the amount of time each hemisphere experiences darkness and sunlight. We may also be aware that solstice in the Northern Hemisphere has determined when the world celebrates the major holiday season. In effect, our culture might be called “hemispheric-centric”.
We depict Santa Claus in heavy blizzard-ready clothing making his rounds in North America; but can we visualize him wearing cargo shorts, a tropical print shirt, and sunglasses in Australia on the same day?
When using a search engine to find out about December Solstice celebrations for Argentina, I found a few entries for summertime in Argentina, but halfway down the first page, I found listings of the usual Northern Hemisphere’s wintertime articles for this month. Articles about Argentina’s December holidays is generic and sparse. The mentions that I found are written from the perspective of tourists, not native Argentinians. The official listings only show Roman Catholic oriented holidays and Christmas around the December solstice. Perhaps I should add that interesting nation to my bucket list so I can find out, first-hand.
The rest of the Argentina search reverted to Northern Hemisphere events. There is a wealth of information about Christmas. There is New Year’s Day which doesn’t necessarily happen on January 1st in all cultures. There are the ancient Druidic observations and the more contemporary Wiccan celebrations of December. Then there are the Halcyon Days I wrote about a few days ago.
In Scandinavia and neighboring areas of Europe we find Jule or Yule. Some other traditions include Mummers Plays that depict battles between the Oak King and the Holly King. There is Wassailing that goes back to antique Romania and ancient Rome. There is also the wild Roman Holiday season of Saturnalia. All of these and others have shaped contemporary Christmas observations, including the very date, December 25th.
Most of the Solstice lists neglect to mention Asian traditions around this time of year. I’ll mention a few of the more popular observances. Most noteworthy is the Dongzhi Festival that is celebrated around solstice in China. It is important as a feast day. This is when many families eat meals that feature a special round, sweet dumpling called “tāngyuán”.
On the 31st into the first days of January, Japanese celebrate Shogatsu. This is one of the most important holidays in Japan. Traditional, pickled foods are prepared and served in lacquered boxes to save the mother from having to cook for three days. Otherwise, overall housecleaning is performed and homes are festivally decorated.
Earlier this month, many of my fellow Buddhists and I celebrated Bodhi Day on December 8th. This moveable date is the traditional observation of the day that Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment beneath the Bodhi Tree at Bodhgaya, India.
There is a wealth of events to celebrate this month, so enjoy your favorites and try a few of the less familiar ones, too.