About solstices, perihelion and calendar changes

Historical summary and reflection

For those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, every year around December 21, the Sun remains hidden for a longer time; that is, the night lasts longer than the day. This phenomenon is known as Winter Solstice. In the southern hemisphere the opposite occurs: the night is shorter and the day is longer, and is called Summer Solstice. This event was well known by civilizations about ten thousand years ago (during the Stone Age), and was used as a natural reference for hunting, farming, mating and migrations.

During the existence of different civilizations, traditions have been adapted to this date. Pre-Roman civilizations (such as the Celts) celebrated this event with bonfires. During the Roman Empire, after the winter solstice was celebrated Deus Sol Invictus (The Invincible Sun God), as a victorious rebirth of the sun (and its attributed deity) after having spent the longest night of the year. This festival was called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Day of the Birth of the Invincible Sun), and it was celebrated from December 22 to 25. During the history of the Roman Empire, parallel to Sol Invictus and with the same meaning, Brumalia was celebrated, with Greek origin, and Saturnalia with Persian origin (the Sun God Mithra was replaced by Saturn, Roman God of the seed and the wine). At the end of the time of Emperor Flavius ​​Valerius Aurelius Constantine, December 25 became what we know today as Christmas, which is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Some festivities were mixed with others, or eclipsed, or politically and religiously censured, and eventually merged into the traditions we have today.

Recalling the solstice, what is special about this astronomical event?

It has been important for various cultures, as previously mentioned. Also it would be important January 3 or 4, which is when the earth is in perihelion, that is, the closest point of the earth to the sun (word from Greek peri, near; helios, sun). Both solstice and perihelion sound good pretexts to celebrate something. They may even have mystical, magical, fantastic attributions … For me, they are suitable dates to begin an account in time so that the planet we share with many other life forms, returns to the same position; once more in the longest night, in the longest day, near or far from the surrounding star. At every turn the earth gives around the sun we call it a year, and we are currently celebrating a new year between December 31 and January 1.

What will be special on December 31? As special as January 1. These are days that Pope Gregory XIII used to delimit the end and beginning of his annual calendar. Just because. This calendar (which we call Gregorian) replaced in 1582 the Julian calendar, which had been established by the Roman emperor Gaius Julius Caesar in 46 b.C. (which at the same time is replacement of various roman lunar calendars).

The Roman calendar was designed for battle. It started its account in the month of Mártius, dedicated to Mars, God of War. On these spring dates the military campaigns of the year were decided. The account ended with Februárius, dates on which Februa (purification) was celebrated to start the military campaigns again. During the year 153 b.C., due to the Celtiberian Wars, the Romans found themselves in need of advancing the beginning of the military plantation (and with this, start the calendar before). They adopted Januarius (henceforth January) as the beginning of the calendar. This order was respected by Julius Caesar, who reorganized the days in each month and implemented his calendar … that would be replaced by that of Gregory XIII only because they wanted to adjust the liturgical festivities, decision taken during the first Council of Nicea, in the 325 years of our era.

In this way, and putting here the apparent cultural arbitrariness with which we currently celebrate the count of each year, I decide to wish the kind reader who has arrived (or jumped) to these lines:

Happy Solstice!
Happy Perihelion!
Happy New Year!

Enjoy this planetary journey around the sun, doing what is possible for your happiness, the happiness of others, and to keep this planet alive and make more trips around the star Sun.

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