The winter solstice occurs when the Earth’s axial tilt is farthest from the sun, at its maximum of 23? 26’. The winter solstice lasts only a moment, but the term is often associated with midwinter or the first day of winter, as well.
World interpretation of the event is varied, depending on the culture. The majority, however, recognize the event as one of rebirth, and celebrate it with holidays, festivals, gathering, banquets and rituals during the time. In ancient Rome, a great, month-long festival was held, ending on December 25th, which at the time was believed to be the date of the winter solstice. The Festival was called Brumalia, from the Latin word Bruma, meaning “shortest day” or “winter solstice.” Many other cultures had similar traditions.
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The solstice itself may have been significant even during Neolithic times. Many astronomical events controlled various actions, indicating the proper time to mate animals, sow crops and utilize stores of crops during the winter. The importance of the winter solstice can be learned from archeological sites such as Newgrange in Ireland and Stonehenge in Britain. Both of these monuments appear to have been carefully positioned so that their axes pointed to the winter solstice sunrise (Newgrange) and sunset (Stonehenge).