I love midwinter. I love the themes of new beginnings, renewal and rebirth. As the snow begins to fall, I resign myself to arm chair adventures and internet gardening until spring returns and the earth is once again fertile.
The winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, and the longest night. After the solstice, which typically falls on or around the 21st of December each year, the cycle reverses and the day once again grows long. It is the point when the year is reborn and daylight hours begin to increase. We may have several cold months before spring arrives, but already the light is drawing nearer.
Photo credit Mr. Objective | Creative Commons Attribution License
The December solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southern decline. This is when the North Pole is tilted furthest from the sun. The earth’s axis to the sun changes throughout the seasons. This is why the sun appears in different places on the horizon through the year. It also affects the intensity and duration of the sunlight we receive.
Monuments like Stonehenge in Britain and Newgrange in Ireland were aligned so that the primary axes pointed to the winter solstice sunrise (in the case of Newgrange) and the solstice sunset (in the case of Stonehenge).
The earliest sunset actually happens before the solstice. True solar noon happens as much as ten minutes before noon on our clocks. Due to the tilt earth’s axis and our planets “egg shaped” orbit of the sun, solar noon and clock noon don’t always match. By the time the solstice arrives, solar noon is much closer to the noon on our clocks. By this time, solar noon is happening almost ten minutes later than it did earlier in the month, making sunrise and sunset happen ten minutes later as well.
In the mid-northern regions of the globe, the earliest sunset occurs sometime around the middle of December, the solstice itself around the 20th-23rd of December and the latest sunrise happens in early January.
The solstice occurs tomorrow, and Christmas will be just after it. It is a beautiful time to go for a drive and look at decorations and lights. In spite of the increasing darkness, everything is covered with a brilliant layer of snow. No night is really dark in winter.