This month’s “Season of Light” show in the star dome at Southworth Planetarium explores the history of the holiday season — from a celestial perspective.

A celebration of light is part of many cultures. No matter your beliefs — from the candles on the menorah to the lights on the Christmas tree to the winter solstice and the star guiding the Magi to their new king — there are many references and metaphors related to light wrapped up in holiday celebrations.

December is a sun-deprived month, and today astronomers know the loss of sunlight is because the Earth tilts away from the sun (on the winter solstice, it tilts 23.5 degrees away).

But people in ancient times didn’t understand what was happening as they watched the sun descend, so they created celebrations in November and December to influence the sun to return.

“This program is one of my favorites because it incorporates facets of astronomy, history and archeology,” said planetarium manager Edward Gleason. “It lends audiences a perspective onto the origins of our holiday traditions and, to me, this vantage point enhances my appreciation of them.”

“Season of Light” attendees will learn that the Hopi in the American Southwest calculated the time of the winter solstice and spent 16 days performing rituals and ceremonies to encourage the sun to return for another growing season. The ancient Romans honored their god of agriculture, Saturn, with a weeklong celebration, called Saturnalia, around the winter solstice.

A brief history of a variety of other world celebrations is also included in the hourlong show, offering insight into the evolutions of the Christmas tree, decking the halls, mistletoe (evergreens were considered a symbol of eternal life by the Romans, Egyptians and northern Europeans), Santa Claus and many other familiar secular traditions.

After the prerecorded “Season of Light” show, the planetarium’s mechanical star projector will be fired up in the dome to help novice stargazers identify stars, constellations and planets that you can view in the night sky this month.

Staff Writer Wendy Almeida can be contacted at 791-6334 or at:

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