We are now in the midst of the holiday season- – Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and the celebration of the Winter Solstice. To each of you who celebrates one (or more) of these special holidays or another that I don’t know about, I give you my best wishes and hope it is a wonderful holiday season for you.
I live in the Northern Hemisphere and that fact colors my view of life and history. From this northern point of view, the Winter Solstice is the oldest reason to celebrate. I don’t know when and where humans began to celebrate this day (This year it occurs on December 21 at 5:23 EST). But it is not difficult to figure out why.
Ever since the Summer Solstice on June 21, 2018, our daylight hours have been getting shorter and shorter. Often June 21 is described as the longest day of the year north of the equator. That statement can be confusing because of the two different meanings of the word ‘day’. Obviously, the calendar day is 24 hours every day of the year. That doesn’t change. The other definition of the work applies to the daylight hours. That does change as anyone who is awake at sunrise and sunset can confirm.
For us, the shortening of the period of shortening daylight causes no concern. We know it has to do with the tilt of the earth as it travels around the sun. The astronomical knowledge that is part of our basic world view has been known for a very long time and we don’t even have to think about it. We know that after the Winter Solstice, the daily period of sunshine will grow longer until next year’s Summer Solstice when the cycle will begin again.
But for a moment, cast your mind back to a time before astronomy explained what was happening. The day had been getting shorter and shorter day by day and in many parts of the northern hemisphere, temperatures has been growing cooler (or colder, which ever applies). Sure, last time, the days began to get longer again after the solstice, but how could you be sure it would happen again? Happily, the Winter Solstice marked the end of the shortening of the day. It would not continue to get shorter and colder. Life could continue. What better cause could there be for a celebration?
So, whatever you celebrate at this time of the year, I wish you joy and happiness.