On the Sidelines in the Solstice Wars


Winter king, Sakha Republic, Siberia

Oh wait, it is Christmas that has (news media-generated) “wars.” How the winter solstice should be observed, however, has become the subject of almost rabbinical discussion on one of the Colorado Pagan listservs, again.

There are always two core factions, the calendrical and the astronomical. The event at stake is the annual Drumming Up the Sun (DUTS), which takes place at Red Rocks Amphitheatre (actually a Denver city park), whose site looks out over that prairie’s-edge city toward the eastern horizon.

DUTS, as one person wrote, is “organic” — it just happens with minimal organizing. And it’s a cool event (pun intended). If I lived up there, I would go. As one Colorado Pagan recently noted in a different context, “trance drumming has become rarer, drum circles are fading, and there just aren’t as many chances for people to drum themselves into trance and call forth the goddesses and gods into our primal beating hearts.” But this one still goes on — it draws hundreds of people sometimes.

But the question is, which morning?

The calendrical faction says, in effect, “Do it on the 21st because that is the solstice date on the calendar.” One of the “calendrists” writes, “Most of the drummers have opted for Monday since some people have to work Tuesday.”

Linking to this website, a member of the astrononomical faction posts, “[The site] is pretty clear that the night of the 21st-22nd is the shortest night, and what I didn’t mention before but what is also visible there is that the 22nd is also the shortest day, not the 21st. That is another reason why the 22nd is solstice day, despite the moment of the event happening two hours and eleven minutes into the day before. In other words, the 22nd is the shortest day of the year, another way to define Winter Solstice. . . . If people want to drum up the morning of Solstice Eve I think that’s awesome . . . .  I am not trying to pressure anyone to do anything, but rather to state what I’m doing with my group and to provide accurate scientific information.”

And a third small DUTS faction — call them “let’s do it all” — wants both mornings, maybe even 24+ hours of non-stop drumming. “Since we already have people who feel inspired to drum on the mornings of the 21st and the 22nd,” one asks,  “could we connect them together as parts of a longer vigil?”

As of this morning, the online opinion-soliciting continues.

If I must take sides, I lean toward the astronomical faction. I have always felt that if you are timing any working to planetary motion, then starting just after the peak moment of whatever is better than starting before it. “Catch the wave,” so to speak. But others may think differently.

As for the solstice, being a self-employed foothills dweller, I will likely roll out of bed on the 22nd, take a bodhran, dress warmly, call the dog (just the one dog now), and climb up the ridge east of the house.

Thanks to the shape of the land, even if I sleep a bit late, I can pick one of several clearings in which to stand as the sun clears the ridge to the southeast. My drumbeats can float out over the little valley, the neighbors’ scattered houses and pastures, and the sun-lit mountain to the west.

Unless, of course, it’s snowing hard, in which case I will have to improvise.

7 thoughts on “On the Sidelines in the Solstice Wars

  1. I’m also a stickler for correct astronomical dates for this sort of thing. However, I celebrate the Winter solstice as the longest night rather than the shortest day. And I celebrate the Summer solstice as the longest day rather than the shortest night. According to my calculations the longest night is the night of the 22nd-23rd. Of course, to be that accurate, you need sunrise and sunset times to the second for your location (told you I was a stickler).

    So the 22nd is the shortest day and the night afterward the longest night (sometimes it’s the night before).

      • Exactly… though I’d have to drive far afield to find a place where I could actually drum without pissing off the neighbors.

        We usually do a vigil of lights, magic and prayers for the coming year (for things like peace on Earth), and a dawn offering of thanks. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the winter nights are very long indeed (especially compared to where I grew up in the desert Southwest) and sometimes it really does feel like the night won’t ever end.

        Still the difference between the night of the 21st-22nd and 22nd-23rd is something like 20 or so seconds… so I don’t think anyone’s really getting it “wrong” here. For me, part of the observation of the holiday is the calculation. It reminds me how long the night actually is (which I think I get into denial about).

        • OK, I just double checked my numbers. The difference between the length of the two nights where I live is 3 seconds. So seriously, pick a long dark night (there’s no shortage) and celebrate.

  2. Personally I do both days. I do Kucios the night of the 21st and Kaledos on the 22nd. Then I also (being the astronomy nut that I am) celebrate on January 3rd, which is Earth Perihelion, or the date the Earth comes closest to the sun.

  3. I also find it hilarious that Christians are celebrating on December 25th – the date of the birth of Mithras! If it haden’t been for Constantine…

  4. Oddly, in Japan, 23 Dec is a public holiday, for the Emperor’s birthday (Christmas is not a public holiday). “Kotan”, “descend birth”, can be used for either the birth of Jesus or the birth of an emperor.

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