On Saturday, Dec. 21, the winter solstice will mark another season when the Sun stands still. Due to our planet’s tilt on its axis, it makes the Sun look like it rises and sits over the course of a year, yet the Sun never moves. The Earth is the one rotating in relation to our personal star. The winter solstice this year will happen at 5:11 p.m. On that day the United States will receive just nine hours and 32 minutes of daylight.
The Earth’s axis is presently pointing in a northward direction near to the Polaris star Polaris, which is also known as the Pole Star. Everything in the sky, and that includes the Sun, seems to be revolving around this sky point.
Because the Earth’s axis is aimed toward Polaris wherever the Earth is in its annual orbit, the Sun seems to move throughout the year. It appears to go north of the equator on June 21 to south of the equator on Dec. 21.
The Sun looks like it crosses over the equator going back to the north about March 21 and heading to the south on Sept. 21. This is when equinoxes happen. The various dates can vary from year to year because of leap years having to be taken into account.
On Dec. 21, it appears that the Sun stops all movement to the south, takes a pause, then slowly begins its track northward once again. The pause is what is considered the actual solstice. This is where it seems the Sun actually stands still. In the same way, on June 21, the Sun stops moving in the north sky, takes that pause, and turns back south all over again.
These four special dates have been tremendously important to humankind since crops were first started to grow over 10,000 years ago. Ancestors have erected remarkable structures throughout time in order to be able to follow these important events. Some believe that Stonehenge was built as a sort of astronomical laboratory, because its stones accurately oriented up to perceive the extreme movements of the Sun.
Calendars that are followed today are constructed from the dates of the equinoxes and solstices. However because of errors that happened through the years, it has caused modern calendar dates to have shifted by nearly 10 days off from proper celestial dates. There are numerous cultures around the world that use the winter solstice as the beginning of the New Year. The other three dates precisely divide the year into seasons.
It is no accident that many holidays have arisen from being so close to these four times of the year. Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and numerous other days of celebration come straight from the solstices and the equinoxes.
The winter solstice, especially, has long been regarded by many societies as a major turning point in the year and one of major concern and fear. After all, the Sun does stand still.
They would have extravagant rituals at the solstice time to make sure the Sun returned on its proper path. There is no accident that Christmas and the solstice occur so close together.
No one really knows when Christ was born. That is a simple fact. The Dec. 25 calendar date was picked by the Catholic Church a number of centuries after the birth of Christ.
The beginning of Christmas was in Rome, which was already celebrating Dies Natalis Solis Invictus, which was the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun, a pagan holiday. That is why they are so close together.
The winter solstice has become to be known as the first day of winter while the summer solstice is considered the first day of summer. Dec. 21 receives less sunshine than any other day in the year in the Northern Hemisphere. However this does not mean it is always the coldest day. That usually happens in January or February in the Northern part of the world.
The winter solstice means the ending of the short days of winter have begun, even if they are ever so very slow in happening. After the Christmas holiday passes, people begin to notice that the Sun starts to set a bit later each day. Even a couple of minutes bring some relief on those bitter, cold nights. It will mark yet another season of when the Sun stands still.
By Kimberly Ruble