Celebrating the solstice
Dec. 21 marks the winter solstice.
Regardless of the religion, ethnicity, or political party you’re associated with, you very likely celebrate a December holiday that revolves around the winter solstice. And what is that exactly?
A solstice is when the sun appears at its highest, northernmost point relative to the equator (the summer solstice) or its lowest, southernmost point (the winter solstice). The easiest way to think of the winter solstice is that it’s the date when the sun reaches its lowest annual altitude. From the winter solstice forward, the sun will get higher in the sky.
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, our winter solstice marks the beginning of winter. That’s because we’ve hit the day that has the fewest hours of sunlight. Depending on the vagaries of our imperfect calendar, this falls somewhere between Dec. 20 and 22. For 2012, it’s Dec. 21.
More from Living: 20 Pinterest crafting 'fails'
There’s a bit of a disconnect in the winter solstice being the shortest day of the year. We expect that longer days with more sunshine will immediately beget warmer days after the solstice. Not true. The Northern hemisphere is still tilted away from the sun for the next few months, until the Equinox, when the Earth’s axis is nearly perpendicular to the sun’s rays. That happens in March, and it’s when life gets warmer in these northern climes. The fact that we’re used to days with more sunlight is exacerbated by daylight savings time, which makes days feel artificially longer.
Back to the celebrations. Even without religious or Hallmark holidays, there have been festivals marking the solstice since the dawn of recorded history. The ancient Romans had the nonstop partyfest of Saturnalia starting on Dec. 17.
More from Living: Ugly holiday sweaters
A thousand years ago, the people of what is now Russia celebrated Korochun to keep their ancestors warm during the solstice, the longest night of the year. Hannukah and Kwanzaa are celebrated in the weeks immediately before or after the solstice. The weeks of the Advent calendar lead right up to the solstice — nevermind that Jesus wasn’t actually born on Dec. 25.
See the pattern here? Cultures all over the world appreciate the coming of winter, and not just because they’re following dates on a calendar. The position of the sun and the diminishing light have always signaled this day, and this longest of nights.
Photo: YouraPechkin/Getty Images
inspire: live a better life
Editor's note: We will now be publishing Miss Manners articles twice weekly, but you will only see one question and answer per article. You can expect to see these articles appear on Tuesdays and Thursdays going forward.
President Harry S. Truman was behind efforts to establish the first Armed Forces Day in 1950, and decades later the nation continues to set aside the third Saturday in May to recognize and thank members of the U.S. military for their patriotic service. With these five homecoming images, we salute all service members at home and abroad.
There's much to be desired about working from home: the stress-free commute, flexible hours, and improved work-life balance.
Wishing for the fountain of youth? You may not need it. We've rounded up real-women secrets, tried-and-true beauty tips, and the latest research to help you fight aging.
Experts weigh in on when to bite your tongue at the office.
Oh, the places you'll go — to get some "me" time, that is. REDBOOK readers confess all on Facebook.
How much money you make isn't nearly as important as how you use it, according to Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, authors of the new book Happy Money.
Plus, how do you ask people to not bring gifts to a shower?
Looking for a career upgrade? Follow these tips for a foot in the door.
These tanning and skin cancer myths aren't just wrong — they can do serious harm. Wise up and head into a healthier future. P.S. You'll look a lot younger too.
It's possible to rejigger your brain circuitry and feel more joy, even on Monday mornings. Here's how.
Inner peace just got easier. You don’t need quiet, incense or hours to meditate, and you can scrap the chanting. Better: Ninety-five percent of you say you’re calmer after a single 10-minute session. Whatever your excuse (see ours), get your om on and reap the rewards.