Life ain’t great right now. Another Covid sponsored lockdown looms large. Mr Grinch has won this Christmas, for sure.
It gets dark at 3 PM right now. It doesn’t get light until 9 am.
Light is good. We take it for granted. Those lazy summer evenings where options are limitless and plans are made in an instant, I yearn for them.
It gets slightly easier this week, though. Specifically on the 22nd of December every year. The winter solstice happens on the 21st.
You thought I meant Christmas day, when you began reading this, didn’t you? It’s a close second, but the winter solstice will always hold my heart.
What is the winter solstice?
The winter solstice, hiemal solstice or hibernal solstice occurs when one of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun. It happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere (Northern and Southern).
For that hemisphere, the winter solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky. At the pole, there is continuous darkness or twilight around the winter solstice. Its opposite is the summer solstice.
The winter solstice occurs during the hemisphere’s winter. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is the December solstice (usually 21 or 22 December) and in the Southern Hemisphere, this is the June solstice (usually 20 or 21 June). Although the winter solstice itself lasts only a moment, the term sometimes refers to the day on which it occurs.
Other names are the “extreme of winter” (Dongzhi), or the “shortest day”. Since the 18th century, the term “midwinter” has sometimes been used synonymously with the winter solstice, although it carries other meanings as well. Traditionally, in many temperate regions, the winter solstice is seen as the middle of winter, but today in some countries and calendars, it is seen as the beginning of winter. In meteorology, winter is reckoned as beginning about three weeks before the winter solstice.
cultures, and has been marked by festivals and rituals. It marked the symbolic death and rebirth of the Sun. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days.
Why is it my favourite day?
Do you know how the working week feels a little easier on Wednesday evening? Or a workout feels that bit more doable once you’ve hit that 50% mark?
It’s because the hard work is done. To me, the winter solstice means planet earth has finished taking light and is ready to start giving some light back.
It’s mostly a psychological thing, but it’s huge mentally.
It means hope. Things will get a bit easier. “A stretch” in the evenings, as they say locally. The hardship of winter is on the turn.
Rather than dreading the light going earlier and earlier, I can look forward to increased doses of Vitamin C and more opportunities to get outside in the afternoon and evenings. It will still be bitterly cold going into January. Knowing our luck lately, floods and snowstorms will arrive alongside a deep ice-age style frost.
At, least, though, we know it’s going to get better before it gets worse. And for now, that’s enough.
Christmas is a tantalising 4 days away too. The Winter Solstice benefits from it’s proximity to the day of glad tidings, familial cheer and excess. This year, particularly, I am going to go to town on the turkey dinner.
Why is it extra special this year?
A very rare, once-in-a-lifetime celestial event will shine brightly in the sky on Monday evening — weather permitting, of course.
Our two largest planets — Jupiter and Saturn — will appear to merge in what is called a conjunction on this, the winter solstice.
This will be the closest the planets will have been since 1623.
But back then they were very close to the sun, making the conjunction very hard to see.
In fairness, in the spirit of full disclosure, this would not normally interest me in the slightest. As it is, it’s the most exciting show in town right now, it certainly beats watching the daily Covid briefing.