DRAFT FIRST BLOG POSTComing Soon - December 2020
For the past 40 years, Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice performances have brought people together to welcome the return of the sun and the birth of a new year. Set in the extraordinary acoustics and titanic dimensions of the world’s largest gothic cathedral, New York’s St. John the Divine, the event has grown into an extravaganza of music and dance, a contemporary celebration of renewal. This year will feature a unique version of the event, tailored to COVID times.
WHAT IS SOLSTICE?
The two great celestial milestones of the year, Winter and Summer Solstices, are perhaps humanity’s most ancient ritual observances. People paused at these times to reflect upon the journey of life, with its trials, blessings, hopes, and promise.
The word “Solstice” comes from the latin sol (sun) and stitium (to stand still). The winter solstice is when the sun, on its apparent path across the sky, reaches its southernmost point from the celestial equator and seems to stand still before reversing its course. Summer solstice occurs when the sun reaches its northernmost point on the celestial sphere and, once again, seems to pause before turning back. On our about June 21st, the summer solstice is the longest day and shortest night of the year. The winter solstice, on or about December 21st, is the longest night of the year, and the shortest day. So the long night of winter solstice is the true new year’s eve.
In 1980, Paul Winter and the Consort were invited to be artists-in-residence at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Paul Winter explains: “The dean had a personal mission to create a bridge between spirituality and ecology. He appreciated our music, but I think it was the ecological dimension of our repertoire that convinced him we could be part of the Cathedral. The premise of the invitation was entirely secular; it was not to have us play liturgical music. We could present any events we wanted, as long as we produced them ourselves.”
“For our first major event, I wanted to find the most universal milestone we could celebrate, and I thought of the winter solstice, which embraces everyone who lives in the northern hemisphere of our planet. That December, we presented our first “Winter Consort Winter Solstice Whole Earth Christmas Celebration.” I could never have imagined then that this would become an annual tradition and that the event would be enduring 38 years later.”
The winter solstice is the great turning point of the year. From time immemorial, people of the northern latitudes regarded this coldest and darkest time of the year with mingled foreboding and expectancy, for the longest night of the year was also the uncertain threshold of return towards the year’s fullness, when green things would grow again and life would be sustained. People felt a responsibility to participate in regenerative rituals to ensure the sun would wax again. Bonfires and candles, with their imitative magic, helped fortify the waning sun and ward off the spirits of darkness. These symbols live in our modern seasonal customs: the candles of Hanukkah and Christmas are kin to the fiery rites of old, which celebrated the miracle of earth’s renewal.