Thursday, Dec. 21, was our winter solstice. Actually, it was scheduled to occur precisely at 11:28 a.m., Eastern Standard Time (according to scientists). The winter solstice in the northern hemisphere typically occurs on the 21st or 22nd of December. It marks the point in time each year when our hemisphere is the farthest away from the sun during its orbit.
I remember enough from my high school earth science class to know that this has something to do with the angle of the axis of the earth and not the rotation around the sun. More important to me is the fact that the day of the winter solstice will mark the longest night of the year.
This is good news on many levels. First, there are those of us who have difficulty with lack of sunlight — you know us because we get grumpy during the shortened days, complain about them, and take extra vitamin D. For us, the solstice marks the exact day when the dark hours begin, ever so slowly, to dwindle. On Dec. 22, for example, we will have exactly 9 hours, 22 minutes, and 14 seconds of daylight. By New Year’s Eve, those daylight hours will have extended by three minutes and 13 seconds! So each day, we’ll get a few more seconds of daylight, which is good news. Within one short month – on Jan. 22 – we’ll have increased those daylight hours to 30 more minutes! The winter solstice is actually a wonderful time to celebrate.
Thirty-three years ago, Matt and I were married on the winter solstice. That gives me another reason each year to look forward to the day with the least amount of sunlight.
Some historians believe that some Christmas traditions (merry-making and gift giving, in particular) have their roots in the very old traditions of sun-worshipping. The winter solstice was a time for celebration for people who believed the sun god ruled over time, agriculture, and life. To me, it’s logical that we would adopt some of those traditions. We believe that God is the giver of life, time, and our earth, so we celebrate His birth.
Some historians also conclude that Jesus wasn’t born in December, because shepherds were outside tending their flocks. However, I’ve known a few modern day shepherds who they say that sheep can certainly stay outside in cooler temperatures, especially if there’s not a cold wind. The temperatures around Bethlehem in December are, on average, about that of northern Florida, with some rain. It seems likely that sheep could tolerate that.
It’s true we don’t know the exact date of Jesus’ birth, but what better time to celebrate than around the day of the winter solstice? Any day is a good day to celebrate it, in my opinion.
The arc of the sun is at the lowest at the solstice, so the shadow you cast on the winter solstice is the longest you can make all year. Give it a try at noontime and see! Happy Winter Solstice! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sue is a retired public servant who volunteers at the Hospice store (For All Seasons) in Troy and teaches part-time at Urbana University. She keeps busy taking care of husband, house, and pets. She and her husband have an adult son who lives in Troy.