Celebrate History During The Winter Solstice

Megan Ray  |  December 20, 2013

If you're getting tired of short days and early sunsets, never fear - the shortest date on the calendar falls on Saturday, Dec. 21, and it's all uphill from there.

If you're getting tired of short days and early sunsets, never fear - the shortest date on the calendar falls on Saturday, Dec. 21, and it's all uphill from there. Every year, the Winter Solstice marks the date when the earth's rotation begins to tilt the Northern Hemisphere back toward the sun, lengthening days and starting the region on its way back to warmer weather.

Although the holiday is hardly commemorated in the U.S. today, its celebration was one of the highlights of the calendar year in ancient times, according to CBC News. Here's a brief history lesson of the Winter Solstice, and ways that people in senior living can commemorate the event with family members and friends.

Have you ever wondered where the terms "yule" and "yuletide" originated? The Norse peoples of Scandinavia created the words, and its etymology comes from the word "Giuli," the name given to a mid-winter season corresponding with the modern two-month period between the beginning of December and end of January. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the name was reappropriated along with other aspects of the holiday season, when Christians adapted it for their religious calendar. The term "yule" was revived during the 19th century in reference to the original period, as well as the French word "jolie," which means "beautiful" or "festive." While singing seasonal carols with younger relatives, come up with a list of words that might be unfamiliar or new, and see what other fun facts you can learn.

Roman Empire
During the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, people of all social standings were allowed to take a break from work and join in the festivities. According to a University of Chicago scholar, the name Saturnalia was intended to honor Saturn, the Roman god of seed and sowing, and the feast was intended to bring about a strong harvest for the coming year. Historians have indicated that the celebration, instead of lasting a day, typically extended for up to a week. During this time, sacrifices were made to the god, and a public banquet was enjoyed by all. People also often exchanged gifts such as fruit, nuts, candles or small crafted toys, and decorated small fir trees. These practices have survived hundreds of years and are still enjoyed during the holiday season today.

Modern world
According to CBC, as Christianity spread across the globe and grew in prominence, many customs and traditions were adapted to Christian beliefs. The time period became associated with Christmas, drawing on existing traditions' sentiments of renewal and rebirth. You can see how, nowadays, many of the ancient traditions live on, and new celebrations and practices continue to evolve.

In addition to Christmas, Kwanzaa and the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah are also celebrated around this time. Exploring the background of each seasonal event offers a great opportunity to encourage understanding and acceptance of people of varying cultures and beliefs. Learning about each event's history, modern celebrations, significance and observation is a great activity for seniors to share with younger family members or friends. While books and movies may form the basis of your discovery, local events such as musical performances, cultural demonstrations or food showcases are fun, hands-on ways to immerse yourself in other traditions. Learning about other customs also provides a great opportunity to create some of your own.