Amy Roberts: Solstice celebrations
“The days are long, but the years are short.” It’s a sentiment often offered to new parents in hopes of reminding them the struggles of today — the tantrums and potty training and 3 a.m. feedings — are fleeting. They might seem unending, but soon you’ll be watching your kid collect a high school diploma and wonder where the time went.
Whoever coined that phrase had obviously never lived through a pandemic. Here, in this perpetual state of quarantine, the days are short but the year seems impossibly drawn out.
I can’t tell you what I did yesterday, much less last week. But I can tell you those days were full, jammed probably, and they certainly flew by. Which is entirely at odds with the idea we seem to be in our 37th month of 2020. I feel like I’ve had at least six birthdays since the country ran out of toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
The shortest day of the year is upon us. Dec. 21, the winter solstice, will grant us just over nine hours of daylight in Park City. The darkness of the next several weeks can be a little, well, dark. With the exception of a good powder day, even the most self-motivated among us can struggle to pull back the covers in the morning. Knowing this, I found myself googling suggestions for celebrating the winter solstice. I thought it might be beneficial to consider the event worth enjoying rather than merely enduring.
I learned this year’s winter solstice is a little extra special due to what is being called the Great Conjunction of 2020. Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in our solar system, will appear to embrace in the Earth’s night sky. The last time they were this close together and observable with the naked eye was about 800 years ago in 1226.
Aside from this stargazing treat, I also learned the winter solstice has been honored by ancient civilizations, indigenous cultures and various religions throughout the years. Some of the rituals are still practiced today.
Considered a turning point in the year (God, let’s hope so!) and the birth of a new solar year, the winter solstice is the reason thousands of visitors typically head to England’s Stonehenge, which is known for its precise alignment with the sun’s movement. There, they sing, dance, play instruments and essentially have a prehistoric Burning Man as they celebrate regeneration, renewal and self-reflection and wait for the sun to rise. This year, though, no gatherings are allowed due to COVID. Instead, the sun’s rising will be livestreamed from the stones.
Also canceled this year is the annual Krampus parade in Hollabrunn, Austria. Typically held on the winter solstice, this annual tradition seems to be a hybrid of Halloween and an S&M festival. People dress up like Krampus — the half-demon, half-goat counterpart to Santa Claus — and while wearing horned masks and fur body suits, they terrorize, tease and “gently whip” the crowd. The traditional Krampus run in Austria is said to ward off bad spirits near the winter solstice.
Every year over 30,000 people enter a lottery to be one of just 60 people allowed to stand inside the 5,000-year-old Newgrange monument and absorb the first rays of the day. This Stone Age monument is a burial mound in Ireland’s Boyne Valley. It contains a 62-foot passage that leads into a chamber aligned with the sun as it rises. But since it’s in Ireland, there’s no guarantee sunlight will actually pierce through the top of the chamber and illuminate the room.
In Japan, people can be seen soaking in a hot bath with floating yuzu fruit to welcome the winter solstice. The tradition is so popular that some Japanese zoos even offer the animals fruit-filled baths.
And in Korea, red bean porridge is both eaten and spread around the house to keep evil spirits away and bring good luck on the solstice.
If, like me, you’re fresh out of yuzu fruit, your fur body suit and whips have already been stored for the season and you don’t find red bean porridge particularly appetizing, maybe we simply celebrate the impending return to longer days and shorter years.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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