The Winter Solstice And Beyond

I'm All About Celebrating And Loving The Days Getting Longer


I have for several years paid particular attention to the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere (where our wonderful town of Easton is located) – an event which is most commonly identified with late December and the shortest day and longest night of the year. 

The word solstice comes from the Latin “sol” (sun) and “sistere” (stand still).  

Here excerpted from Wikipedia is a description of the winter solstice:

The winter solstice is the time at which the Sun is at its southernmost point in the sky (northernmost point in the Southern Hemisphere) appearing at noon at its lowest altitude above the horizon.   The winter solstice usually occurs on December 21 to 22 each year in the Northern Hemisphere, and June 20 to 21 in the Southern Hemisphere ….

More evident from high latitudes, a hemisphere's winter solstice occurs on the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun's daily maximum elevation in the sky is the lowest.  Since the winter solstice lasts only a moment in time, other terms are often used for the day on which it occurs, such as "midwinter", "the longest night", "the shortest day" or the first day of winter. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days.

We don’t do much of it in Easton, but for centuries, people the world over, have celebrated the winter solstice for, yes, it marks the briefest day and the deepest and most prolonged night – yet it also marks the launch of the days getting longer and the nights getting shorter. 

The 2011 winter solstice fell on December 22. 

You won’t find in the Gospels the date during the year in which Jesus Christ was born – and there is considerable and credible scholarship to support that early Christians established December 25 as the date of Jesus’s birth for it coincided with early days of rebirth and renewal and the return of light following the winter solstice. 

Since ancient times, pagans and non-religious people also have celebrated the winter solstice and conducted rituals in recognition of it. 

We are now in mid February, and while it won’t be until March 11 that the clocks will be set ahead an hour for daylight saving, it is already easily noticeable that the days are longer and we have light at later points in the day than we did a month ago.

This past December 22, again, the date of the 2011 winter solstice, the day was nine hours and 15 minutes long.  On January 1 of this year, about a month and half ago, the day was nine hours and 19 minutes long.   The final day of January was 10 hours and five minutes long. 

(By the way, these day-length times are rounded to the nearest minute.)

Today will be 10 hours and 30 minutes long.   Tomorrow the elapse of time from sunrise to sunset will be 10 hours and 32 minutes long.

I like where this is going. 

The days will get longer and the nights shorter until we reach the summer solstice – which falls on June 20 this year – and its day which is 15 hours and six minutes long.  Then the days start getting shorter again.

Yesterday afternoon, around 4, I was sitting in my car in the parking lot, reading the newspaper, drinking an iced coffee, and eating a sandwich.  My car was parked in front of the stone wall on Rte. 138/Washington Street, and facing toward . 

I like having an open field in front of me. It is good for the soul. 

If I had been in the same place in my car a month ago, what I would see in front of me at Sheep Pasture would be a little light and a lot of gray.  

Yesterday though there was plenty of light over that conservation land.  

This winter has been unusually bereft of snow and arctic temperatures, at least on our continent.   But winter is winter, with its darkness, with its long nights, with its short days. 

I’m all about this return of light.  

And day after day, I’m going to celebrate and be thankful for it, and sending it some good karma and love.  


J February 13, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Hey Ross - Thought you (as well the many Eastonites with Irish roots) might find this interesting: A few years back, while I was doing a semester in Ireland, an Irish friend of mine brought me to a place in County Meath called Newgrange. The Wikipedia page does a decent job of explaining what it is, but it's basically a prehistoric landmark dating to approximately 3200 BC. It is a large round structure with a domed top and it has a large narrow hallway-like passage as it's only opening. What it may have been used for is obviously the source of much speculation, but it most likely goes back to some sort of ancient pagan/ritualistic celebration of the winter solstice like you mentioned. What's interesting is that the structure's alignment is such that the sun only shines into the narrow passage and lights up the interior one time each year, always on the winter solstice. So, the builders of Newgrange were aware of exactly where the rising sun would be in the sky on that day each year, and built the opening so that this would be the only time that the sunlight would fully light up the inside of the structure. There are many other similar historic landmarks with connection to the sun and stars, but your column struck a chord with me since I've actually been inside this one (not on the winter solstice) and I just found it very interesting. - Keep up the good work.
Ross A. Muscato February 13, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Thanks "J" for the interesting and educational comment. yes, I know that in Europe there are stone formations whose construction is motivated by the winter and summer solstice. Newgrange, I am going to study and learn more about Newgrange. Thanks again.


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