The Winter Solstice has always been a time of celebration, because ancient people were intricately tied to the goings on of the sky. Their constant sky-watching was tied to a life in agriculture. The stars were their calender, GPS, and DirecTV. It might have helped that there was zero light pollution, save for a cloudy night here and there. The people of that time knew that the Winter Solstice signaled that the Sun had begun it's new cycle of life. Eventually spring - and more importantly, food - would return. The promise of another growing season would be fulfilled.
Throughout history, humans have celebrated the winter solstice, often with an appreciative eye toward the return of summer sunlight.
Massive prehistoric monuments such as Ireland's mysterious Newgrange tomb (video) are aligned to capture the light at the moment of the winter solstice sunrise.
Germanic peoples of Northern Europe honored the winter solstice with Yule festivals—the origin of the still-standing tradition of the long-burning Yule log. We have discussed.
The Roman feast of Saturnalia, honoring the God Saturn, was a weeklong December feast that included the observance of the winter solstice. Romans also celebrated the lengthening of days following the solstice by paying homage to Mithra—an ancient Persian god of light.
Many modern pagans attempt to observe the winter solstice in the traditional manner of the ancients.
"There is a resurgent interest in more traditional religious groups that is often driven by ecological motives," said Harry Yeide, a professor of religion at George Washington University. "These people do celebrate the solstice itself."
You and I celebrate the Solstice in modern times, as well. But we’re all far more sophisticated these days - we cover up this ancient pagan sun worship with more important religious customs and countless trips to Target.