Vail Daily column: Winter solstice a time for hope, prayer
Vail, CO Colorado
The shortest day of the year during the most barren of seasons; here dwells the winter solstice. At this time of year, the Earth’s axis is tilted as far from the sun as it can get and the sun is at its nadir. Due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis, 23.5 degrees, we have the pleasure of receiving four seasons here in the Northern hemisphere. Conversely, in the Southern hemisphere, Dec. 21 is the mark of the summer solstice.
On June 21, the solstices switch, and while we are enjoying our summer solstice here, the south is experiencing their winter solstice. Each day following the winter solstice the days grow progressively longer and longer. Although some may see winter as a desolate time of year for nature, beneath the weighty blankets of snow and ice awaits life.
Spanning the course of human history, cultures around the world have anticipated the vibrant return of life from its state of dormancy throughout the winter. Celebrations have occurred in the name of the changing seasons, the winter solstice has been seen as a time of hope and prayer for the return of fruitful spring. In some ancient cultures, the gods were praised in hopefulness that the sun would continue to return day after day.
In Colorado, the winter solstice has been observed dating back to our native peoples, the Ute tribe. While the earliest Utes did not have the term “solstice” in their vocabulary before the Spanish arrived, they did have ceremonies which acknowledged the coming of winter. As a nomadic tribe, winter proved to be a challenging season. The Utes survived the winter by benefiting from their harvest of hunted and gathered food. Hunger was not uncommon to the tribe, as the food supply dwindled later into the chilly season.
Much like our present-day culture, winter was a time for socializing between families. The Ute tribe had to settle down for the winter and traveling was less utilized. Each of the seven bands of Ute (Mouache, Capote, Weeminuche, Tabeguache, Grand River, Yamparicas, and Uintah) was made up of smaller family units. During the less mobile winter months, each band was able to mingle within its comprised sects of family and resided close by each other, similar to today’s tradition of visiting family and loved ones at this time of year.
In order to honor the new season of winter, the tribes’ people often held, and still do hold, sweat lodge ceremonies. During these ceremonies, prayers were offered for a good winter full of health, bountiful food, and shelter for loved ones. In Native American culture, the winter solstice represents renewal and regeneration.
Throughout the winter, preparations would be made in anticipation of the spring. Tales were told around campfires and songs that had come to the people in their dreams were sung. Come spring, often at the first sound of thunder, the Bear Dance was held in tribute of the once again shifting of seasons.
So as we are out recreating this winter, enjoying the endless days of powder, let us keep in mind the traditions of our native people of Colorado and honor the imminent winter. We can take advantage of these spectacular mountains while bearing in mind that Mother Nature slumbers softly below our skis and snowshoes.
Suzie Bouzo is an educator and graduate fellow with Walking Mountains Science Center. She enjoys teaching and inspiring our local students to get excited about science and the environment.
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