You’d be forgiven for thinking that today is actually one of the least wonderful times of the year, despite what old Christmas crooners have tried to tell us.
It’s freezing cold, the streets are thronged with rabid last-minute Christmas shoppers and summer seems like little more than a distant memory.
But take hope all ye grumpy British folk, for today is actually the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day of the year and marks the moment when the days begin to get longer.
In the ancient world, the solstice was regarded as a harbinger of springtime and allowed people to look forward to a season when sunshine will return to the Earth and life begins again.
Strange myths surround the longest day of the year, helping our ancestors to explain the turning of the seasons.
Here are some of the weird stories surrounding the Winter Solstice.
Celtic: The Oak King kills the Holly King
In ancient Britain, these two rival gods were said to be locked in constant battle.
During the Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year – the Oak King is at the height of his power, but his rival begins to take control as autumn begins.
The Winter Solstice marks a point in the year when the Holly King is in full control but also the moment when he begins to lose his grip on power, allowing the Oak King to begin his rise and start the process which leads to spring and the return of life to the world.
This old myth celebrates the turning of the seasons and is interesting because it would have reminded ancient pagans basking in the summer heat that a grim winter would inevitably darken the world – as well as allowing them to look forward to springtime as they shivered through the chill of a bleak December.
Hungarian: Csodaszarvas The Miraculous Deer
This remarkable beast is an important figure in the Hungarian people’s myths about their origins.
Two brothers called Hunor and Magor spotted a white stag whilst out hunting.
They tried to pursue it but could never catch up, eventually settling down and founding the dynasties which eventually became the Huns and the Hungarian people.
It is claimed that ancient Hungarians believed that December 21 was the day when Csodaszarvas gathered up the sun in its horns and carried it into the new year, where it would once again light up the world and bring plants back to life.
Chinese: Gonggong headbutts a pillar holding up the sky
The peoples of Ancient China told the story of a god called Gonggong, who was a monster with red hair and tail of a serpent.
He squared up for a fight with Zhurong, the Chinese god of fire, over who had the right to claim the throne of Heaven.
Sadly for GongGong, he lost the battle and was so upset he headbutted Buzhou Mountain, a mythological peak which held up the sky.
This tilted the heavens permanently, causing the winter and summer solstice.
This myth was also used to explain why most rivers in China flow to the south-east, while the sun, moon and stars travel towards the north-west.
Norse: Frigg’s journey to the underworld
The story focuses on Frigg, goddess of childbirth and mothers, whose son Baldr is killed by other jealous gods.
Baldr was said to glow and has often been described as the Norse god of light or illumination, so his death is linked to the darkness caused by the Winter Solstice.
Frigg was furious that her son had been slain and visited the underworld to rescue him from death.
She was told that he would be released and brought back to life as long as every single creature in the universe cried for him.
Sadly, one giant (who may have been Loki, god of mischief, in disguise) refused to weep and Baldr was doomed to languish in the underworld until Ragnarok – an apocalyptic battle which will bring about the end of the universe.
Frigg is also known as Frigga and the less rude-sounding Freya. Her story lives on in the name everyone’s favourite day of the working week: Friday.
Greek – Persephone is kidnapped and taken to the underworld
Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Queen of the Underworld, featuring in a vast number of stories throughout the ancient world.
She was kidnapped and raped by Hades, god of the underworld, who burst out of a cleft in the Earth and stole her away.
Some versions of the myth suggest her mother Demeter, goddess of the harvest, stopped plants growing on Earth while she searched for Persephone.
Demeter eventually struck a deal for her daughter’s release, but Hades played a trick when meant Persephone would have to spend part of the year in the underworld before returning to heaven.
This myth was used to explain the coming of the winter, when the Earth became so cold and dark that crops couldn’t grow.
Spring and summer were thought to come about when Persephone was freed and plants started to spring back to life.
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Source : https://metro.co.uk/2017/12/21/winter-solstice-five-weird-myths-shortest-day-year-7176079/