In the Northern Hemisphere, today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and the longest night. It's officially the first day of winter and one of the oldest-known holidays in human history. Anthropologists believe that solstice celebrations go back at least 30,000 years, before humans even began farming on a large scale. Many of the most ancient stone structures made by human beings were designed to pinpoint the precise date of the solstice. The stone circles of Stonehenge were arranged to receive the first rays of midwinter sun.
Some ancient peoples believed that because daylight was waning, it might go away forever, so they lit huge bonfires to tempt the sun to come back. The tradition of decorating our houses and our trees with lights at this time of year is passed down from those ancient bonfires. In ancient Egypt and Syria, people celebrated the winter solstice as the sun's birthday. In ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated with the festival of Saturnalia, during which all business transactions and even wars were suspended, and slaves were waited upon by their masters.
Henry David Thoreau said: "In winter we lead a more inward life. Our hearts are warm and cheery, like cottages under drifts, whose windows and doors are half concealed, but from whose chimneys the smoke cheerfully ascends."
I love being reminded of the history behind some memorable moments. 30,000 years is a long time, huh? So the roots of our feeling somewhat cheated on daylight today come from a LONG time ago!
One of the church study groups planned at our UCC church this winter has to do with how the minds and intelligence and knowledge that we have accumulated since the men (and they were mostly men) wrote down their sermons and letters in the Bible have evolved. It is called "Painting the Stars". Although the word "evolution" can be sometimes a trigger word for some biblical discussion...what is planned for discussion here is more about "evolved" knowledge about our world, our universe, our place in the universe, and our scientific views (although of course still limited). How does this new knowledge impact our understanding of what was written back then. Should be an interesting discussion.
The lighting of bonfires to tempt the sun back (as mentioned above) came way before the Bible, of course, but I can understand their concern! And now that we know more about the sun as a star, we know that they were not so far off in that worry for now we know that the sun is actually finite and that in some far distant future it will be gone. Or so scientists think at this point in time. So lighting a few bonfires to "tempt" the sun to come back is not such a bad idea after all! :-)
(quotes are from Garrison Keillor's website)