What Is A Solstice, Anyway?

Posted by on Dec 21, 2018 in holiday, winter | 0 comments

What is a solstice? It’s the darkest part of winter. Yet paradoxically, it’s a time to celebrate warmth, and light, and life. A holiday for everyone, all welcome, no religion necessary. It’s just about the planet we all live on, tilting to and fro on its long journey around the sun. It’s when the days start getting longer.

And the solstice is also a precise moment in time. This year, the solstice falls on December 21, at 5:23 pm. Set your alarm.

Why mark this moment? It’s the tipping point between light and darkness.

Why 5:23 and not 5:24 or 6:27? Well, it’s the precise instant at which you can see the sun directly over your head—if you happen to be vacationing in the Tropic of Capricorn.

And where’s that, exactly? The Tropic of Capricorn sounds like a magical kingdom, somewhere to the east of Narnia, perhaps, or west of Westeros. Sadly, though, it doesn’t really exist. It’s an imaginary line drawn around the globe, passing through such pleasant places as Brazil, Madagascar, and Fiji. When the sun is overhead there, it’s at its lowest ebb in the Northern Hemisphere. So December 21 at 5:23pm is the moment when the tide starts to turn. Now the days get longer.

One would think that since there is now more sunlight, there would be more warmth. Surely the solstice must herald the beginning of spring? Alas, no. Winter is just getting started. It’s an old farmer’s proverb: When the days begin to lengthen, then the cold begins to strengthen.

But that’s okay. We’re used to the cold, we can weather the storm. The important thing is that light is increasing.

The days get longer and longer, a few minutes each day, until June. Ah, June. Warm June sunrises, long June evenings, with daylight lingering till nine or ten at night. But then comes the other solstice, usually around June 21. Midsummer’s Day, it’s called, although it seems as though summer has barely begun. All through the balmy summer, the days are getting shorter. It’s confusing. July, August, September, shorter and shorter. The end of Daylight Savings really makes the darkness close in. Soon we’re back in the darkest days of December, when once more everything changes.

So get ready. At 5:23pm EST on the afternoon of December 21, it will be dark. But give a thought to the sun, pouring down overhead on all those happy folks who dwell along the Tropic of Capricorn. Soon the sun will be coming our way.

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