Monday, December 21, 2009

Our Darkest Hour

Today, at 11:47 am cdt, the sun kisses the Tropic of Capricorn and then begins on its six-month journey toward the northern tropic. At least, that's the pre-Copernican version of things... more accurately, today, in the earth's tilted orbit around Sol, we will hit the point where the southern hemisphere is tilted directly toward the sun. The tilt will stay the same, but the earth will keep moving around until, six months hence, the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun. This (when it works) is a really good "applet" to see the whole process, where you can actually set your own latitude, or the latitude you wished you lived at, and see it from that perspective.

For us, that means... winter officially begins. Of course, with snow on the ground for a while, this seems a rather artificial starting point for the cold season. And it doesn't really mean the end of short days or low-angled, never-feels-mid-day sun, either. But it does mean that we're at least heading toward longer days and higher sun, eventually, instead of the opposite.

And so we celebrate, as people have since ancient times,* the day the sun stands still. We celebrate the sun regaining its strength, we celebrate our ultimate source of food and energy, warmth and light. In our darkest hour, we celebrate the sun.

*Interesting to note... before, you know, our scientific revolution, before watches and our understanding of the solar system and the earth's movements... before all that, people still, of course noticed the lengthening and shortening of days that accompanied the changing of the seasons, and the phenological rhythms that guided their livelihoods. Without "sophisticated" science, you really start to notice the lengthening of days a few days after the solstice, around the 25. Sound familiar? That's right, people... we're all pagans at heart.

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