In a week, we’ll have passed the solstice, the turnaround time of midwinter when the sun is at its greatest angular distance from the earth’s tilt. “Solstice” comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). For almost two weeks before the winter solstice–which in the Northern hemisphere is between December 20 and 22–the sun sets at the same time each evening; the same is true for sunrises following the solstice.
This stasis feels like the earth is stuck in the sky because the sun doesn’t seem to move. It’s like we’re waiting for something to happen. No wonder ancient Northern people brought evergreens and holly into their homes and lit candles during the long nights until spring came again. No wonder the early Christian church chose this time of year to celebrate Christmas.
Usually by mid-December on Colorado’s Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, the weather’s cold and even snowy, with the sun barely strong enough to give light, let alone heat. But the last few days have been in the mid-60s and we haven’t had a real snow yet.
To say these days are unseasonal seems a euphemism, for it’s not just the temperature that’s off. With this warm weather, it doesn’t quite feel like Christmas is only a week and half away. At a little local second-hand store where I donate and shop because it’s run by a non-profit serving women in our community, the clerk whispered yesterday, “This weather’s been bad for Christmas shopping.”
I’m sympathetic to their dilemma, but snow would be good for another reason. As farmers, we’d like some moisture on the fields. We may get our wish tonight with first rain and then a projected accumulation of 1-3 inches of snow. Maybe that will pick up holiday shopping. I know the trees will like it.
John and I celebrate the winter solstice, a time we take a little get-away together, not going too far, just far enough to relax, enjoy some good food, and think about the coming year. The winter solstice is our half-year anniversary too, so spending time together on the longest night of the year seems fitting. We also celebrate Christmas with our children and our families, but the solstice helps us gain some stasis before those busy days when we may lose sight of each other for a little while.
I like having a celebration that is truly seasonal, based on the relationship of the sun and earth and the felt experience of light and warmth, darkness and cold, as they balance our days here at the end of the year. Looking out the window, I can see by the bare trees against the wild blue-grey sky that we’re about to turn around again, a reminder that we will travel together through this time of stasis to movement once more.