Happy (late) solstice

By Grant Jacobs 23/12/2009

Done those Christmas things? We’re all late.

The solstice was on the 21st.

Ha! Got you worried?

Some of you will have noticed that my blog posts have been a little erratic lately. I do a lot of research for many of my articles. Yup, I check those facts I toss at you…! Posts will continue to be erratic for a few more days; apologies to loyal readers, but family comes first.

Solstices are the longest or shortest days of the year. It’s more formally defined as the times when the earth’s axis is most tilted towards or away from the sun. There are many explanations on the WWW, but for the moment I like Janet Stemwedel’s explanation, complete with wonderful “hand-crafted” drawings. Aside from her usual clear explanations, she has the decency to recognise those of us in the southern hemisphere. It’s a nice touch.

There’s also an article on the National Geographic website, which puts the solstice into anthropological terms, in terms of man’s cultural activities celebrating the solstice. Religions have been observing the solstices for thousands of years, with some more recent religions overlaying other stories onto the older solstice celebrations, the best known example in the West being Christianity’s celebrations of the birth of Jesus at the time ancients celebrated the “rebirth” of the sun.

St. Nicholas rescuing murdered children Artist: Elisabeth Jvanovsky
St. Nicholas rescuing murdered children Artist: Elisabeth Jvanovsky

The other well-known example, again in the West, is the celebration of the fat man in a red suit, which, if anything, is an example of the opposite situation where a pagan celebration follows from a religious one, that of the Catholic St. Nicholas of Myra.

It’s an interesting website to explore the history of the original jolly white-bearded fellow and I’d encourage readers to browse. The description has it’s nod to the religious angle, but it’s quite restrained compared to what it might be.

(Of course, being a saint, he has some fairly impossible things attributed to him like rescuing murdered theological students (depicted to the right). He apparently prayed to have the boys restored to life after being butchered and stuffed in a pickling tub. Great story, but I’m sceptical…)

There’s even an attempt to reconstruct what he might have looked like.

Another website I recommend describes how Good ol’ St. Nick became Santa, including the origins of putting up stockings for Santa and how we owe Thomas Nast, who lived in Victorian times, for our present-day depiction of Santa as the bearded fat man in the red suit.

How many of you know the Rudolph might have been a girl? Only female reindeer keep their antlers throughout winter…

So, I hope there’s enough reading appropriate to the season to keep you busy!

And for me? Happy (late) solstice! I’ll be back in full swing in a few days. (I might yet manage to squeeze something in, we’ll see.) In the meantime, enjoy the company of your family or friends wherever you find yourself. They’re the important part.