Source: The Poughkeepsie Journal
Throughout the ages, a variety of cultures have viewed the winter solstice as a time for celebration and renewal. The tilt of the earth’s axis makes the winter solstice the shortest day — and longest night — of the year. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the word solstice comes from the roots "sol," which means sun, and "stit," which means stand. In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice usually falls on Dec. 21 or 22.
"The winter solstice is a day when we’re reminded that we are on a planet, and the seasons are cyclical," said Jim Metzner, producer of the "Pulse of the Planet" radio series and creator of the Kids Science Challenge, a nationwide competition where third- to sixth-graders submit problems for real scientists to solve. "It’s a visceral reminder of the seasons passing. It’s a time of renewal, and a time when art and culture and science collide. It re-invokes the question of who we are."
In ancient times, winter was very challenging for those living in the north. When the growing season ended, people lived on stored food and whatever animals remained. People feared the sun would disappear forever, leaving them hungry and cold. Partaking in rituals that honored the natural world helped to ensure the sun’s return and continued life.
An author of more than 60 books for children, Ellen Jackson conducted a lot of research for her book "The Winter Solstice" (Millbrook Press, 1994).
"Primitive people were afraid when the sun withdrew, so they developed ceremonies to placate the gods," she said. "For instance, they brought in evergreen trees in their home and tied apples to oak and fir tree branches as a promise that good times will come again."
Before becoming an author, Jackson taught at an elementary school. Every year she made sure to teach about the solstice.
"It was good to celebrate the solstice because no children felt left out," she said. "It brought everybody together."