WINTER SOLSTICE: December 21

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting impatiently for this day for a long time.  There could be any number of reasons:

  1. This is the day the Mayan Calendar ends, which has been interpreted by some to mean that this is the end of the world.
  2. This is the shortest day of the year, in terms of the hours of “sunlight” available to us. (It’s cloudy and raining outside, so there’s not a lot to begin with.)
  3. It’s the Winter Solstice, a day recognized by some faith traditions to have special spiritual qualities.
  4. It’s the first day of Winter.
  5. THIS IS THE DAY THAT THE HOURS OF DAYLIGHT START GETTING LONGER!!!

In case you can’t recognize my bias, it is #5 that gets my vote.   I have been counting down the days, knowing that every evening when I watch the Evening News weather segment I will hear that sunset comes just a little bit later.   I’m not a great fan of this 4:30 sunset thing.

There are two days of the year that carry the term Solstice.  One comes in the Summer when the days start getting shorter.  It’s the longest day of the year, in that there is more sunlight available on that day than any other.    The other is today, The Winter Solstice.  The word Solstice comes from Old French and means “the day the sun stands still.”   To earlier folk, it seemed that on June 21 and December 21 the planet stopped turning, either during the sunlight day (Summer) or the darkened night (Winter.)  Talk about impatience!

It is caused by the tilt of the earth.  Many people think the earth stands in a perfectly upright position, but in reality it is tilted slightly.   Thus, as it rotates throughout the year, the northern hemisphere gets differing lengths and qualities of sunlight.

One of the things which characterizes the days in the Fall is the leaves on the trees.  They turn colors and then begin to drop.  It signals to us that the days are changing and winter is down the road a little.  But there is another factor.  The quality of the sunlight begins to be muted.    We are receiving it at a different angle, and it isn’t quite as intense.  At first it is subtle, but before we know it the sunlight isn’t quite as warm as we remember it being in July and August.  It may be a beautiful Fall day with sunlight, but it’s chilly.

Now I’m not saying that it’s time to dig out the short sleeved shirts and beach clothing (unless you are headed for someplace warm.)   But there is a signal that Spring will arrive sooner rather than later.   In this part of New England we begin to experience some qualities of “the end of Winter” in March and it’s not at all unusual to have crocus heads appearing in early April.  Last year, a very mild winter in Rhode Island, we had buds on trees and daffodils appearing in sunny spots in March.   The rest of New England might be a little behind, but that’s because they are that much further north and the tilt of the earth hasn’t been as forthcoming as it is here.

So, assuming that the Mayan calendar is being mis-interpreted,  tomorrow will have just a tiny bit more sunlight than today, and before you know it we will see those hours of sunset reaching into the six o’clock hour, the seven o’clock hour, and then well into the evening as the sun returns to full strength.  In reality, there has been no change in the sun; it’s all about us and our availability to receive the sun’s rays.

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Illustration Credit:  TimeandDate.com

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