On Wednesday, December 21, 2022 at 4:48 p.m. EST (21:48 UTC), the Sun will ingress into the zodiacal sign of Capricorn, marking the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Observed and celebrated for centuries by cultures across the globe, this twice-yearly astronomical event initiates a new season—a new quality of light and of darkness. Bearing the shortest day and longest night of the year, the Sun resets itself for a new cycle and invites us too, to slow down and settle into the stillness of winter. 

According to the National Weather Service, the December solstice occurs when the sun is positioned directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, which is located at 23.5° south of the equator, and runs through Australia, southern Brazil, Chile, and northern South Africa. While the seasonal shift (either into summer or winter) varies based on hemisphere, astronomers at NASA explain that on the December solstice, “the Sun reaches its southernmost position in the sky, no matter where on Earth you happen to be.” Following an 365-day orbit, which is elliptical in shape, “the Sun’s changing height in the sky throughout the year is caused by Earth’s tilt as it orbits our local star [aka, Earth].” Thus, seasonal changes take place when the Earth is tilted on its axis by exactly 23.5 degrees. After winter officially begins in the Northern Hemisphere, daylight too will begin to lengthen again.

As cited in the Farmer’s Almanac, “solstice” is derived from the Latin roots, sol (Sun) and sistere (to stand still), and describes a celestial moment wherein “the angle between the Sun’s rays and the plane of the Earth’s equator (called declination) appears to stand still.” In ancient times, before the inventions of timekeeping devices or electricity, humans relied heavily on the Sun’s daily trajectory through the sky to orient and organize their lives. As daylight gradually decreased each day leading up to the solstice, so too did typical daytime activities, routines, rituals, and cycles of agriculture. Each year, daily life simplified, slowed into stillness, and lulled into deeper sleep before the initiation of something new. 

What would it mean to reconnect with these ancient cycles on a deeper level and return to a slower rhythm of being? What would we notice if we welcomed the darkness and allowed ourselves to slow down? What would we discover or learn about ourselves in this stillness? As the Sun sets forth into a new six-month cycle, it encourages us to turn inward, to sit still and discover what it is we wish to carry with us into the light.

Regardless of what it is we discover within our own moments of stillness, humanities councils across the states and territories will be ready with another year of meaningful programs, opportunities to connect in community, and inspiration for initiating something new. See below for a sneak peek of upcoming winter programs: 

With support from Humanities Tennessee, The Odyssey: A Retelling, by Lisa Bachman Jones exhibition will remain open through January 8 at the Parthenon. Featuring new works by Lisa Bachman Jones, a Nashville-based artist working across disciplines and investigating the everyday through a lens of care, the exhibition “highlights the hospitality of the overlooked identities that made Odysseus’ long journey home possible.”

Supported by North Carolina Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities, Jane Austen & Co will present Jane Austen and the Magazines, an illustrated talk by Jennie Batchelor (University of Kent) on January 10. This free zoom webinar “looks at Jane Austen’s indebtedness to periodicals and her playful reuse of their contents in her novels.”

In partnership with the Broward County Library Foundation, Florida Humanities will host  Colombia Literaria: Identidad, Paz y Cultura, a panel with award-winning Colombian authors Elvira Sanchez-Blake, Gloria Munoz, Laura Quintana, and Pilar Quintana on January 21. A part of Broward County Library’s NEA Big Read 2023, this discussion with authors will “explore the impact of literature on Columbia’s path to peace” and “discuss immigration, cultural identity, and assimilation through their works.”

On January 26, Oregon Humanities will host a conversation with Vanessa Veselka about class, power, and labor as a part of their Consider This: People, Place, and Power program series. Vanessa Veselka “has been, at various times, a teenage runaway, a sex-worker, a musician, a student of paleontology, a union organizer, a cab driver, and a mother. As an organizer, she has worked with hospital and long-term care workers, longshore and warehouse workers, and state employees.” 

As we approach the official beginning of winter, prepare to unwind during the holidays, and celebrate with our loved ones, may the elongating nights invite us also into rest. May the stillness of the winter solstice encourage us to turn in toward ourselves and return to each other refreshed—ready to re-engage in a new cycle of light and of learning with our local humanities councils. 

Written by Jazzy DiMeglio