From “The Winter Solstice” in Christmas: A Short History from Solstice to Santa by Andy Thomas:
“‘Solstice’ is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), and so literally translates as ‘the sun stands still.’ This describes perfectly what happens to the sun as we see it in the sky, usually on December 21 or 22…. At this point in the earth’s orbit, the heavens appear to pause. Thus, what the naked eye sees for three days or so from the winter solstice is the sun rising and setting in effectively identical places. But then, around December 25, positions begin to change and the sun starts its new cycle toward lighter days….
“For the ancients, this was a momentous time, because it meant they could now definitively look forward to life becoming just that little bit more survivable again. Somewhere in our bones, we still feel that joy.
“A celebration of light in the darkness at this time of year raises its head in many cultures…. They all revolve around the same jubilant fact: the sun has begun its slow curve back, so summer and warmth will return, crops will grow, and nature will be abundant once again.”
From Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram:
“During the summer, with its drawn-out days, the sun has little chance to tarry in the ground, but in the autumn it hastens more swiftly across the firmament, yielding further time to rest in the rocky density below. Then, at last, during the long nights of winter, and especially at the winter solstice, the sun lingers and sleeps in at the heart of the earth, nourishing the dark ground with its lustrous dreams, infusing the depths with the manifold life that will soon, after several moons of gestation, blossom forth upon earth’s surface.
“It is a story born of a way of thinking very different from the ways most of us think today…. Yet the tale of the sun’s journey within the earth holds a curious resonance for many of us who hear it… [for] the story brings us close to our senses, and to our direct, bodily awareness of the earthly cosmos.”