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Winter Solstice and Holidays


Winter- it’s a time of dormancy and less activity for some of nature, but for us humans, it’s a time bustling with celebrations and festivities. Wednesday, December 21 marks the winter solstice for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere.

If you are more of a summer enthusiast, there is still good news: The days now start getting longer. That is, they will feel like it, because the sun will be shining for longer. The sun will be shining slightly longer each day until the summer solstice in June, when the hours of sunlight will start to decrease again. At 23.5 degrees North latitude, or the Tropic of Cancer, there will be 13.5 hours of darkness. Marshfield sits at about 37.3 degrees North, so we will see, or rather not see, slightly more hours of darkness than that. Also, your shadow at noon on the solstice will be the longest noontime shadow you’ll see all year. That’s because the sun’s arc will be at its lowest, causing the shadow to elongate.

Solstice comes from the Latin word sol for “sun,” and sistere, or “to stand still.” For several days before and after this day, the sun’s movement crossing the sky, north to south, seems to stay still. That is, its elevation at noon varies ever so slightly, so it seems as if it’s not yet moving for a few days.

December 21 is the astronomical first day of winter, however, it differs from the meteorological first day of winter. The meteorological calendar goes by temperature, so its start date has already occurred, on December 1. The meteorology and climate community wanted a version of the calendar that made it easier for record keeping, since their set dates are not apt to change, as the astronomical calculations do slightly move each year.

What many of us associate with December is Christmas. Although Christmas is the holiday when Jesus’ birth is celebrated, the time of year and many of its customs actually originated from ancient Pagan celebrations, which centered around this significant weather event. The Christian community, whose leader was Pope Julius I at the time, (pope from 337 to 352 AD,) decided that December 25 should be celebrated as Jesus’ birthday, although the Bible makes no mention of this particular date. It is commonly thought to be in effort to combine the two traditions, although some think it was actually an attempt to overshadow the pagan holiday.

Whatever your nippy weather-time traditions, happy winter solstice from the Marshfield Mail!


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