2015-12-16 / Editorials

Brighter Days Ahead

This coming night of Monday, December 21 marks the Winter Solstice in New York. It will be the shortest day of the year in our corner of the world, in which we will have just slightly over nine and a half hours of daylight, and not much more than that immediately before and after. But we have it better than further north, for instance in Barrow, Alaska, where they will not get any sunshine, day or night, for 67 days. That is over two months. Of course, they also get the “midnight sun” all summer. But we would prefer the sunshine spread more evenly throughout the year.

For the solstice of three years ago, the internet was abuzz with end of the world predictions because of the Mayan calendar which, though cyclical, supposedly stopped abruptly on December 21, 2012. But we survived the “Mayan Apocalypse” and lived to see that was a misinterpretation, or simply incorrect.

Though we have been experiencing unseasonably balmy weather, meteorologists consider December 1 to be the start of winter and March 1 the start of spring. But the Winter Solstice is not considered the coldest time of the year. We know from experience the most intense cold in our area is usually January and February, so we have that to look forward to.

In the olden days, people naturally conceptualized the life-giving sun as a god, and when he seemed to be losing interest in us, with shorter and shorter days, the people did what they could to regain his favor, with ceremonies, festivals and rituals involving bonfires and such. The annual holiday served many purposes, such as the vitally important seasonal farming and pastoral procedures, but a big benefit was to perk things up as days got drearier, perhaps one reason we continue to maintain winter celebrations in our largely non-agrarian society. Also, the Roman holiday, “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun” is believed by scholars to have been selected by the Christian church to be the time to celebrate the birth of Christ, since no date was given in the Bible.

In the coming days of longer night hours, it is well to remember that after the shortest day, we begin the journey of increasing daylight hours, by an extra half-hour a month, to be precise. In the meantime, we wish you brightness of spirit in the coming celebrations and holiday cheer of Christmas.

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