Winter Solstice, in the northern hemisphere, marks the time when the sun travels the shortest path through the sky, giving us the shortest day and longest night. Due to our 23 degree tilt, our Earth’s axis is titled in such a way that the North Pole of Earth faces the furthest away from the sun. Without the tilt not only would our planet not have a Winter Solstice, it would not have seasons at all, the sun would remain directly about the Equator, and everywhere on the planet would receive the same amount of light the year through.
Christianity and Solstice
The birth of Jesus Christ was not always celebrated around the Winter Solstice. The adoption of Dec. 25 was pioneered in 336 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Constantine. Historians speculate this was done by the Emperor as a move to weaken established pagan celebrations that occurred around the Winter Solstice. The date wouldn’t be accepted by the Eastern Empire for around another 500 years, and Christmas wouldn’t become a major Christian festival until the 9th Century. The remnants of these overshadowed pagan traditions remain in our Christmas celebrations.
The Jewish festival of Hanukkah which begins on Kislev 25 usually falling in December and lasting for eight days, is also a winter celebration likely influenced by prior Winter Solstice celebrations.