The Winter Solstice – Celebrating A Seasonal Journey
Even as you sit on your sofa this festive season, planning next year’s assorted trips and adventures, you’re already on a most spectacular journey.
Yes indeed, citizens of Earth, our home planet is swirling around and around in a heavenly dance which gives us our seasons, our changing views of the sky, and our day and night. It’s a glittering fandango which started with the formation of the early Universe and will continue long after the audience has departed.
We don’t physically notice it, of course, at least not in same giddy way we’d notice if we were being twirled around on the dance floor of Blackpool’s famous ballroom. But it’s happening, and tomorrow that dance routine reaches one of its classic moves – the winter solstice.
It happens when the North Pole is tilted furthest away from the Sun, giving those of us in the Northern Hemisphere their shortest day.
Those in the Southern Hemisphere will conversely have their longest day, so I guess the term ‘winter solstice’ is probably not the fairest way to describe it from a global point of view.
Let’s say ‘December solstice’ shall we? Just to be ‘hemispherically’ correct.
Pivotal moments such as this solstice have been celebrated (and sometimes feared) through the ages by many cultures, and it’s also commonly known as the focal point of the season for Pagans, more so than the June solstice by some accounts.
The exact time of the solstice varies each year, and so does the actual date – it usually falls on the 21st of December but the full range is the 20th-23rd, something the Druids need to heed, to make sure they turn up at Stonehenge on the right day.
‘Tis the Season
A common misconception is that it’s the Earth’s distance from the Sun that causes the seasons – but it’s the aforementioned tilt of the Earth that results in our seasonal variations.
Otherwise (think about it), both hemispheres would experience the same season at the same time, and if you’ve ever spent Christmas in Australia…..well……
As much as I love my conventional travels, I also hold dear my cosmic journey in the elegant carriage of planet Earth. It’s an amazing thing, when you look up into a dazzling night sky, and suddenly remember that you’re waltzing around in space.
The sun rises and sets as the world keeps turning, and the Moon shines hope upon us.
The seasons come and go and we make our travel plans, year in, year out.
We dream, we work hard and with providence, we may achieve.
And all the while, though we often forget it, we’re already on the ride of our lives.
I, for one, try to remember that, and celebrate it as often as possible.
Celestial Journeys: 7 Fun Facts
1. The term ‘solstice’ derives from the Latin word ‘solstitium’, meaning ‘Sun standing still’. It describes the points at which the Sun appears to change direction in the sky.
2. Until English scientist Isaac Newton founded the science of celestial mechanics over 300 years ago, the irregular movement of the planets caused much confusion among scholars and laypersons alike.
3. The Sun is 400 times larger than the Moon but it’s also 400 times further away from Earth. This is why they appear to be the same size and it’s why total solar eclipses can happen. What are the odds of that? Well, we don’t really know, to be honest. We haven’t found any similar planetary systems yet, but we’ve barely started to look. It IS pretty awesome though.
4. When the Moon is directly above your head, or if you stand at the equator, you weigh (ever so slightly) less.
5. The Moon spins around on its axis in the same amount of time it takes to orbit the Earth once – so we always see the same side of it.
6. The light from the Sun takes over 8 minutes to reach the Earth – but the Sun IS approximately 150 million km away from us.
7. The song “Save the Best for Last” sung by Vanessa Williams, contains one of the most glaring examples of factually erroneous lyrics:
“Sometimes the snow comes down in June,
Sometimes the sun goes round the moon”
Errr….no it doesn’t. Not ever.
The moon goes around the Earth, which goes round the sun, due to the effects of gravity.
If the line had read..
“Sometimes the snow comes down in June
Sometimes the sun may LOOK like it’s going round the moon, especially if you happen to be on the moon, but it’s just the effect of celestial dynamics viewed from a different perspective”
…I’d accept it, although it wouldn’t fit in with the meter of the song…