BANGOR, Maine — Over the centuries, the winter solstice has been celebrated with festivals, singing, dancing and the burning of fires throughout the longest night of the year.
Sunday night, yoga and satsung joined the ways Bangor area residents could mark that night.
Yoga instructor Sandy Cyrus, of Orono, held a satsung, a form of devotional chanting sometimes used in Hindu worship, at Central Street Yoga, overlooking West Market Square.
“I do it because I love it,” Cyrus, who also teaches at her own studio, Full Circle Yoga in Orono, said as people arrived. “The solstice is an opportunity to welcome the light and an excuse to get together and chant.”
The opening chant was an evening prayer in Sanskrit that included sentences that translated into English as: “Lead us from the unreal to the real. Lead us from darkness to light. Lead us from death to immortality.”
Although the winter solstice isn’t an event on the Hindu calendar, it is an astronomical and cultural event. The winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere may fall anytime between Dec. 20 and 23 and in the Southern Hemisphere between June 20 and 23.
While the solstice sometimes is observed for a 24-hour period, the actual event lasts just one second, the Farmers’ Almanac states. This year, the winter solstice will be at 7:04 a.m. today. At that moment in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is at its greatest distance from the equator.
The word solstice comes from the two Latin words — sol, meaning sun, and sistere, meaning to stand still, according to the Farmers’ Almanac. During the winter solstice, the sun appears at its lowest point in the sky, and its noontime elevation seems to stay the same for several days.
The sun’s gradual decrease in the sky reverses upon the winter solstice, marking what many cultures believe to be a rebirth of the sun as the hours of daylight become longer, the almanac states.
The winter solstice has been celebrated since ancient times, according to the Web site www.candlegrove.com. The Mesopotamians are believed to be the first to celebrate the solstice. They marked it with a 12-day festival designed to help the god Marduk tame the monster of chaos for one more year.
Cyrus said Sunday’s chants were devoted to Lord Shiva the Destroyer, who also is capable of clearing paths.
“This is an opportunity,” she told the seven women and one man who shared her circle Sunday night, “to set the stage to remove obstacles, for the coming of the light or whatever you want to bring to your life. So bring it on.”