During the winter solstice, the Northern Hemisphere angles away from the sun's direct rays, but the Southern Hemisphere angles towards it. The angling away from the sun gives us winter, whereas is summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
The winter solstice marks the longest night of the year, and the shortest day of the year. Right now we are experiencing earlier sunsets, longer nights, and shorter days. This will continue until de Spring. This natural astronomical shift has been a source of magical mysticism and celebration for millennia.
|14th Century "Roman de Fauvel" from the Bibliotheque National de France, Paris).|
It depicts a sort of feast, usually associated to the medieval Feast of the Fools.
The solstices are astronomical phenomena. They have been a source of celebration and festivities for many western cultures. Ancient civilizations have long observed these variations, many which celebrated the changes or seasons and erecting monuments to help them predict their approach. Famous examples of these are, of course, Stonehenge in Southern England, and Machu Picchu in Peru.
|Intihuatana stone, in Machu Picchu. A calendar stone atop the ruins of Machu Picchu, rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911.|
These festivities we still celebrate today but under different names. The pagan Anglo-Saxons celebrated Modraniht around December 25, other celebrated Yule (more common among the Wiccans of today), and the Romans had Saturnalia. Roman Saturnalia was a celebration around all the end of the year in honor of the god Saturn. During the medieval period, Saturnalia was known by Christians as the Feast of Fools of Festum Factuorum, and the Yule Log celebrations, many which were altogether later adopted and modified into our modern Christmas.
|Yule Log illustration in Robert Chambers 1864 edition of Books of Days, pg. 734. Wikipedia commons.|
On that note, happy end of the year festivities, whichever way you may call them. May the new year bring you happiness and health.