Winter Solstice: On This Day of the Longest Night


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service


Awe and Reverence in Day and Night

In 2016, Winter in the Northern hemisphere begins on Wed, 21 Dec, 10:44 a.m. GMT–shortest day of the year.

For thousands of years, humans sought to understand the cosmic wonders they witnessed each day and night, endless cycles. But what if the cycle would cease? What was the mystery of rising and setting sun and moon? Unstoppable!  Perhaps!

Ancient ancestors beheld recurrent cycles of light and dark, of daily bright glistening blues skies burning with the Sun’s blinding light and heat, and then a shadowy gray and black darkness, illuminated in part by a disappearing and reappearing moon, blossoming from slivered to full, the changes visible to the eye. The moon yielded no heat, only a dim light beckoning eyes to gaze beyond to endless distant stars, raising in our minds, with awe, the very question of our existence amidst this massive stage in which we lived.

What was this mystery, visible but elusive, recurrent but changing, cyclical but subject to interference from clouds and storms. Cosmic battles! Struggles in the heavens! Messages for those below on Earth, watching! The ancients called upon the oldest and wisest for an explanation, those who had seen this mystery for many years, testifying to existence. Tell us our sages: “What is it? What does it mean? What should we do? What should be known of this relation relationship between distal, untouchable gods in the sky, and we here on Earth.”

Should we sacrifice to pacify? Should we burn to show we too can create light and dark? Should we build monuments of stone predicting the course of sun and moon, of light and dark? Will this assure our survival? Should we sing and dance? Wear frightening costumes hiding our bodies, threatening the forces bringing increasing darkness to us? Will this stop the hand and mind of gods seeking to destroy us? What have we done? What should we do?

Pacify the Unknown

And so, we will built monuments of stone rising up from the ground, lifting stones of such weight and proportion they will stand forever, a gift to all those following. And we will place the stones in a circle, for it is a circle that is the source of the mystery – a line connecting from its start to its end, perfection, closed, safe for all those within it boundaries.

We will build monuments of stone, designed to escape the decay of time. Permanent, resolute, enduring — capable of withstanding the ravages of weather and man, eternal — a legacy for all who come after to find comfort in the knowledge and wisdom gathered by past generations.    

On this Day of the Longest Night . . .

Before our ancient ancestors, in reverence and fear, unfolded the possibility the brief shining of the sun on this day would yield to the darkness of death’s gasp — a permanent night. Could this be? “We must give homage,” they said! Our wisest mark the days and nights!   We know the day will close, and night will be upon us, longer than we wish or expect, but the night will yield to the Sun welcome rays.

But can we be certain? We must be patient! We have done all we can do. Now powers beyond us must decide our fate. And if it is to be a permanent darkness, then we will learn to sleep by a fire, to plant by the moon, and to hunt in the shadows, aware more than ever before of sounds and smells.

And Today . . .

Our calendar is clearly marked. We need nothing more. We note the day and date: December 21, the day of the longest night. Good! So be it! Something about the angle of sun on Earth’s rotating. We will turn electric lights on earlier, and turn them off later. There is nothing more to be concerned with at this time. There is still shopping to do!

I wonder? Will we remember the event of this day as it was experienced ten thousand years ago? Sages – men and women – priests and priestesses, divining the skies, mixing potions, pounding forest plants, dancing and praying, placating unknown forces, comforting uncertainty.

I have read we still gather at once holy places, men, women, and children, casting aside the clothes of today in favor of robes and skins that once adorned ancient bodies. We will paint our faces and limbs, and moan and sigh as the light dims, and the dark descends, only to be reversed, and to be greeted with loud cheers and frolicking. “Here Comes the Sun,” sang the Beatles. So let it be written, so let it be sung!


Tony MarsellaAnthony J. Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu. He is known nationally and internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 15 edited books, and more than 250 articles, chapters, book reviews, and popular pieces. He can be reached at


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 19 Dec 2016.

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