winter-solstice

We entered winter today. For my little place in the world, it already happened at 5:44 am while I was sleeping. (Check here for your own neighborhood)

The world doesn’t look or feel very different to me from yesterday.

The winter solstice usually occurs on December 21 or December 22 here in the northern hemisphere. 1

Do you view today as the shortest day of the year, or is it the longest night of the year? I suppose that is a glass half empty or full situation. Just to get a bit technical,  when we talk about the solstice day, we mean “day” not as daylight, but as the period from one midday solar noon to the next, so it does bridge two calendar days.

Online you will find today a lot of pictures of modern-day “Druids” greeting the dawn at Stonehenge. That ancient stone circle reminds us that in neolithic times astronomical events that they knew really did guide them about how to live their lives. It controlled when they mated animals, sowed new crops and prepared their winter reserves.

You can measure the solstice like the ancients. If you have a sundial – or a stick in the ground – you can note the midday shadow of the gnomon (the vertical part that casts the shadow). I have a pretty basic sundial and on the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere it shows its longest shadow. It is the shortest shadow on the summer solstice.

You could also be more observant about when in the year the sun rises or sets at its most southern point because that indicates the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. Both of these are observational skills that we seem to have lost in our “evolution.”

In Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses met on the two solstices. It seems to have been the time to have Virgin mothers give birth to sacred sons: Rhiannon to Pryderi: Isis to Horus; Demeter to Persephone; Jesus to Mary.

Today’s sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still) isn’t really a day when the sun stands still for more than an instant, but things do shift into winter gear.

Hey, the Sun’s position in the sky is at its greatest angular distance on the other side of the equatorial plane from our hemisphere! So, celebrate!

The solstice was a celebration before the hard winter began. You don’t have to slaughter any cattle (something that was done for winter food and also because they might not be able to be fed during the winter) but the ancients did enjoy that fresh meat and the wine and beer that was ready for drinking. Maybe you can celebrate tonight with some evergreen decorations, bright illumination (bonfire? or some candles) and your favorite feasting foods. Invite friends, neighbors and family and dance and sing!

 


1 The date depends on the shift of the calendar. December 21 or 22 solstices happen more often than December 20 and 23 solstices. The last December 23 solstice was in 1903 and will not happen again until 2303.  A December 20 solstice has occurred very rarely, with the next one in the year 2080. The winter solstice occurs between June 20 and June 21 in the southern hemisphere.

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