Yesterday marked the Winter Solstice, or the shortest day in the northern hemisphere (and the longest day in the southern hemisphere). This morning, several hours ago in England, a large group of pagans, druids, and tourists snapping pictures gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the rebirth of the sun - the morning when the amount of daily sunlight begins increasing. This event has been celebrated by peoples in different parts of the world well back into ancient times when monuments - like Stonehenge - were erected to show the people exactly when their new year was beginning.
It is a time that has been noted and celebrated long before the birth of the Christ. Modern religious scholars and others believe, in fact, that there is no basis for Christ's birthday being celebrated on December 25th - for a couple of reasons. First, it is doubtful that any shepherds were tending their flocks in the fields in December, and second, taxes were normally not collected in the winter because of the poor conditions of the roads and the rigors of traveling in the cold. Most believe that the birth of Jesus probably occurred in the spring or in the fall.
The early Christians and Romans settled on a December birthday about four centuries after the holy event in an effort to bring the pagans, who already had celebrations going in December, more easily into the fold of Christianity.
Susan Cooper is a renowned British author and poet. One of her minor claims to fame is that her first job was working for Ian Fleming, the novelist who created James Bond. Ms. Cooper penned the following poem, The Shortest Day, as an ode to the Winter Solstice. It's a beautiful work, one that captures the history and essence of this unique celebration of nature. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.