Today, at 1:35 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the northern hemisphere of the Earth will reach its maximum incline away from the sun: the winter solstice. (Interestingly, the time of sunrise continues to get later even after the solstice. Can anyone explain this phenomenon?)
Wikipedia is full of facts (or something like them) about the winter solstice. Did you know that the Iranians celebrate the winter solstice as Yaldā, and that
the earliest celebrants of this astronomical event were the ancient Persians the earliest celebrations go back at least 30,000 years (thank you, Garrison Keillor [RealMedia file])? (The name of the holiday is a Syriac Christian import of relatively recent origins and means “birth,” but doesn’t seem to have much to do with the word Yule, whose Teutonic origins the Oxford English Dictionary claims are obscure.)
Another fascinating fact:
In Ireland’s calendar, the solstices and equinoxes all occur at about midpoint in each season. For example, winter begins on November 1, and ends on January 31.
Meanwhile, in East Asia, the solstice is celebrated as dōng zhi (Chinese: 冬至; Korean: 동지). In Korea, people traditionally eat a gruel made from the sweet red adzuki bean (pictured above) because red is supposed to ward off evil spirits. Click here and here to learn more about the festival.
And, of course, the winter solstice marks the Neo-Pagan festival of Yule.