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Winter Solstice in Greece

An ancient winter holiday


A wintry sky in Milos, Greece

A wintry sky in Milos, Greece

Copyright deTraci Regula
Winter solstice has been observed in Greece for millennia, and while it is often lost in the modern celebrations of Christmas, there are still some ways that travelers to Greece can enjoy the turning point from autumn to winter.

As in the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice in December is both the longest night and the shortest day of the year, inspiring festivals of candles and bonfires throughout the world. Because the Solstices are mark different seasons in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, they are sometimes referred to as the June Solstice and the December Solstice for clarity. The event marks the apparent "pause" or "rest" of the sun on the horizon, where for several days it appears to set at the same spot. When its movement is apparent again, the days begin to grow longer.

In ancient times, the winter solstice marked the beginning of a festival of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea and of earthquakes. His association with the beginning of winter, when seafaring comes to a near halt in Greece, may seem a bit odd - but in his earliest form, Poseidon seems to have been involved with much more than just the sea and the shakings of the earth. In Minoan Crete, he may have been the second-in-command to the Potnia - the little-known "Lady" who was a mother goddess in charge of all nature, and some scholars believe that the name of "Poseidon" was originally "Poteidon", or husband of the Potnia. At this time of year, Poseidon also has help from Alcyone, a Greek goddess who was believed to keep the waters calm around this time of year.

The Winter Solstice also marked the time of a women's festival for Dionysos, when otherwise calm matrons of Athens and elsewhere would become maenads running through the wintry woods.

In the present day, the Winter Solstice is most likely to be noted informally among stargazers around Greece, who like to note the transition of the seasons. In December, the winter skies are often obscured by clouds.

While the December Solstice can occur December 20-23rd, it is usually on the 21st or 22nd and will be for about the next eighty years, when there will be a December 20th solstice in the year 2080. (Any guesses on whether there will be "end of the world" worries for that anomaly?) The next December 23rd Solstice will not occur until the year 2303. So for the purposes of trip planning in Greece, for most of the rest of this century, the 21st and 22nd of December are the only likely candidates.

Dates for Winter Solstice in Greece

2013 - Friday, December 21st
2014 - Monday, December 22nd
2015 - Tuesday, December 22rd
2016 - Wednesday, December 21st
2017 - Thursday, December 21st

More on Winter Solstice in Greece and the Greek Islands

A Solstice Poseidon at the National Archaeological Museum
Winter Solstice at Corinth - the Temple of Apollo at Corinth enjoys its 2500th Winter Solstice, give or take a few years.
The National Observatory of Greece has a daily look at the sky over Athens showing the constellations and any bright spots provided by passing planets.

More on ancient observances of the Winter Solstice from About Ancient History.

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