Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice is this Friday December 21, 2019.

Winter Solstice has long been one my favorite holidays. Truth be told, I don't do well with the cold and darkness of the winter season, but there is something hopeful to me that in once we get through to Winter Solstice - the shortest day and the longest night of the year - that the days will once again get a little bit longer. Even the next day, even if the sun sets just a minute later, if the next Shabbat comes in just a little later, it helps me psychologically. I am not alone in this feeling. This time of year can be incredibly difficult for many people.

In the great compendeum of Rabbinic Literature, The Talmud (Avodah Zarah, 8a), there is a story about Adam the first human being. "When Adam -- who was created in the beginning of the year, on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (e.g. on Rosh Hashanah) -- noticed that during the first three months of his life, the days were getting gradually shorter, he said, 'Woe is to me! The world around me is being darkened and is returning to its state of chaos and confusion; this must be the kind of death which has been sentenced to me from Heaven!' He took upon himself to pray, fast, and look within. After eight days, he noticed the Winter Equinox (the Tekufat Tevet or the season of the month of Tevet), and saw that indeed the days were beginning to lengthen again. "So this is the way of the world!" he exclaimed, and he celebrated for eight days." When I read this, I thought, wow. The rabbis who compiled the Talmud must have really understood Seasonal Affective Disorder. This was also another way thay they thought about Hanukah.

This is also how I think about Solstice, that it's an opportunity to celebrate the light, a way to reinforce the light in the darkness at this time of year (a continuation of Hannukah this year since Hannukah came earlier in December this year).

It is believed that Winter Solstice has been celebrated since the Neolithic period (12,000 years ago). According to Wikipedia, Astronomical events were often used to guide activities such as the mating of animals, the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter reserves of food. The winter solstice was immensely important because the people were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as "the famine months". In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. For more information check out:

Even if you no longer live in an agrarian society, what does Winter Solstice mean for you? What does it mean to be aware of the cycles and the seasons in this way?

How do you mark the passage of time?


Rabbi Sarah