I’m stumped, like Kate Braestrup, by the few days' gap between Christmas and winter solstice.
For thousands of years people of all religions and no religion have come together in mid-December to celebrate the sun. It turns out that by the Julian calendar, which Julius Caesar introduced in 45 B.C., the shortest day of the year was December 25, the turning point when the light began to increase. Centuries later, after the Gregorian calendar came along to reflect a 16th-century understanding of astronomy, December 25 would be permanently separated from the solstice. But though the connection is now hidden, it endures: Christmas is deeply linked to the human desire to mark the return of light.
The winter solstice—when, after a long autumn of increasing darkness, the Earth tilts into the blessed cone of sunlight, and the days begin to lengthen once more.
In ancient times the solstice was celebrated as the "birth day" of various pagan sun gods. Christians in the Roman Empire specifically chose December 25 to celebrate Christ's birth in order to compete with the Roman celebration of the solstice, known as the birthday of Sol Invictus, the Invincible Sun. Over time, the rituals of sun worship were gradually reconfigured and renamed as Christian, the solstice celebration becoming Christ's Mass, or Christmas, and the Roman weeklong Saturnalia festivals, which involved feasting, dancing, and the giving of gifts, eventually becoming the Twelve Days of Christmas.
I would like to thank Kate Braestrup for this insight.
The winter solstice lasts only a moment in time. It seems that direct observation of the solstice by amateurs like me, is difficult because the sun moves too slowly to determine its instant.
According to the professionals, this year winter solstice is on the 21st of December at 23:38 UTC. This means for me, that Wednesday morning, on the 22nd of December at 0.38 am, the days will slowly lengthen once more. Just this knowledge makes me happy. Light is life.