At 2:44am PST today the North Pole will be tilted furthest away from the sun – precisely -23.5 degrees – marking the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun will remain close to the horizon during this season, resulting in shorter days and longer nights.
Many cultures celebrate the increased darkness with traditions revolving around the concept of light. Yule is another name for the winter solstice, a pre-Christian, European holiday. This seasonal celebration was a time for feasting, drinking, gift exchanges, and group gatherings to fend off fears of the dark.
Hanukkah – also known as the Jewish Festival of Lights – is observed for 8 days with the 9 candle menorah. Each of the days is celebrated with a series of family or communal rituals. This year Hanukkah begins on December 24th and lasts through January 1, 2017.
Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th, with lights playing a prominent symbolic role. Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas, with a light lit each Sunday. Many Orthodox Christians will celebrate Christmas on January 7, 2017. Christians in China light paper lanterns, while in the Philippines, star lanterns are lit during Christmas.
Kwanzaa is an African-American celebration beginning on December 26th, and ending on January 1st, 2017. Black, red and green candles, held in a holder called a kinara, celebrate seven principles. Families gather to exchange gifts and each night one candle is lit and one of the seven principles is discsussed.
People often say that winter is difficult to observe in Southern California. Unlike other parts of the country and the world, where leaves turn various shades of warm hues and snow blankets the ground, Southern California’s winters are more subtle. But winter does bring lower temperatures, (hopefully!) more rain, cool winds, snow capped mountains on the horizon…or at least trucked to your local tree lot or farmer’s market.