To everything, turn, turn …
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Today is the first day of winter, but if you’re waiting for the solstice, you’re too late. While we commonly refer to an entire day as the solstice, in reality it’s just a short moment in time when the northern hemisphere is at it maximum tilt away from the sun, at 23.5 degrees. That moment occurred last night Dec. 21) at 10:30 p.m.
Track the sun’s path across the sky today; it will be at its lowest angle of the year, and mark the spot on the horizon where the sun rises and sets because it won’t go any farther south. From my weather deck here in Frisco, the solstice sun sets behind Peak One. On the summer solstice six months from now, it sets to the north of Buffalo Mountain.
As the moment of solstice passes and Earth continues its 365-day journey around the sun, the northern hemisphere slowly starts to tilt back toward the sun, with gradually lengthening days.
At the same time, the southern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, so for people in South America and Australia, it’s the first day of summer. In much of Antarctica, the sun will shine all day long.
In modern times, the solstice has been overshadowed by Christmas, but the two events are probably inextricably linked, as Christian mythology took over aspects of pagan rituals linked with the rebirth of the sun.
Based on what we know about the Stone Age, the winter solstice was probably a very important moment in the annual cycle of life because it marked the start of the coldest and mist difficult time of the year. Starvation was common during the winter months, and the solstice was probably marked by feasting, as most cattle had been slaughtered so it wouldn’t have to be fed through the winter.
Additionally, any fermented beverages like wine and beer would have been ready right around this time of year, perhaps another element in the roots of our modern holiday tradition of feasting.