the start

It is officially winter in the Northern Hemisphere, though most of us were pretty convinced that winter had arrived earlier this month. Today is the Winter Solstice for 2017 and in my part of the hemisphere that happens at 11:28 AM ET.

I am not a fan of the winter season. I’m an autumn person, with summer in second place and fickle spring in third. But I live in a four-season place, so I must deal with winter.

If I lived in the southern hemisphere, I would be welcoming summer. But it’s not that they don’t have a winter, and I could live further south in the U.S. and enjoy lesser winters. But I am hers, so I focus today on this solstice from scientific and cultural perspectives.

The solstice happens each year around June 21 and December 21 when the Sun appears to reach its most northerly or southerly journey relative to the celestial equator. Summer and winter are directly connected to the solstices and spring and autumn are connected to the equinoxes.

While the summer solstice has the most sunlight of the year, today marks the least sunlight of the year for any place other than the Equator.

Though it is not literally true, I like to view this event like the ancients who gave it the name from the Latin sol (“sun”) and sistere (“to stand still”), because it seemed to them that the Sun must stand still for a time today.

The “darkest night of the year” is not any darker, though a bit longer in the dark than yesterday. It sounds depressing, but it should not. After today, the Sun’s daily path (as seen from Earth) after stopping at a northern limit today will head optimistically in the reverse direction tomorrow.

If you were on the North Pole, the Sun would reach the highest position in the sky only once a year on the June solstice day. If you were at the South Pole, the Sun would reach its highest position today on the December solstice.

lake winter sun