The shortest night of the year lies before us and the winter solstice, which marks the beginning of winter. Tomorrow will be the shortest day of the year.
Myths and customs, such as Christmas, Midwinter (Yule), Saturnalia and the New Year, which all are pagan or have pagan roots, are tied together by the winter solstice. In the traditions of parts of Austria, Switzerland and Southern Germany, the night before the winter solstice is the first Rauhnacht of the season.
We cannot yet feel the turning of the seasons and the victory of day over night. The old has not yet passed and the new has arrived but not yet settled in. It is a time of transition, when the evenings are cosy and occasionally a little eerie. Our senses may deceive us. Things are not quite what they seem and we may encounter ghostly visitors but it is a perfect time to indulge in some early merrymaking, celebrations of light and Saturnalia orgies.
The winter solstice is a turning point, after which the days get longer again and the nights shorter. This year, the winter solstice occurs at 17:11 UTC (that’s the same as GMT).
The photograph on this page was created in the early days of 1991. It shows the Crown Tavern in London’s Clerkenwell Green, where I used to live at the time, during a snow storm.