A couple years ago, I commented that I hated December 21st because it was the shortest day of the year. A friend asked if budget cuts had made the government shorten the day from the standard 24 hours. Since that day, I have chosen my words more carefully (at least when it comes to this topic…).
December 21 is the Winter Solstice, the day of the year with the fewest daylight hours (9 hours, 29 minutes and 32 seconds). That makes it my least favorite day of the year. On the other hand, December 22 is a much happier day because we get another moment or two of daylight (9 hours, 29 minutes and 34 seconds).
It is easy to try to describe the solstices (solsticii?) in terms of the sun’s movement, although it is more accurate to say the earth’s rotation causes the sun to be at a different angle to the Earth. For the Winter Solstice, the Earth has rotated placing the North Pole 23.5 degrees away from the sun. The North Pole and people living above the Arctic Circle will not see the sun at all at this time of year. It is also important to remember that the Winter Solstice is only an issue in the Northern Hemisphere. If we are tilted away from the sun, the Southern Hemisphere is at full summer.
While this is the Christmas season for much of the world, there are many, many other holidays celebrated this time of year. A quick count of “Solstice Celebrations” yielded 34 different festivals and holidays. Some of them are no longer observed and others have small groups or are extremely regional. Many of these go back to the lack of daylight and the fear of the dark from ancient cultures. A great tradition that I’m sorry most of us don’t participate in is telling “scary ghost stories” on the night of the solstice (Ever wondered about that song lyric? Check back tomorrow and I will be participating in the Advent Ghosts 2013 storytelling project that meets that exact description.)
I celebrate Christmas at this time of the year. We decorate two Christmas trees, attend a Christmas Eve church service and open presents on Christmas morning. That said, I realize there are people with other beliefs around me. I don’t see how acknowledging other people’s beliefs or recognizing that they may celebrate differently does anything to undermine Christmas. I honestly think people look for things to be offended about when they protest the phrase “Happy Holidays”. If someone tells me “Happy Holidays” (which I truly, rarely hear) I see that as someone wishing me well. My response is always “Thank you!” followed by a “You too!” or “Merry Christmas!” And that is really all we have to say.
For now, though, I think I need to turn on some more lights around the house. It is getting really dark….