Moving into the Sunshine

Sunrise-3901312_640Joanna here, feeling like I should be doing something to encourage the sun a bit more.

It always strikes me as weird that the days get longer after the Solstice in December but the weather keeps getting colder. My truly cold winter months hit in January and February when there's more sun. It seems both unfair and, like, counter intuitive.

It's sciency stuff, basically. The "getting slowly colder" thing happens because the earth is a big place and holds a whole bunch Earth-11015_640of accumulated heat energy stored up from last July and August. Takes a while for that heat to dissipate.

Same reason you can't just take yer pie out of the oven and it's instantly cool enough to chow down.


see the similarity to the earth on the right

If the pie were the earth and you took it out on the Solstice, round here you wouldn't be eating dessert till January.

Here's a nifty map of the coldest day for the US. (you can look at it up close here.) You'll see that some places — like in Colorado — get chillyfreezing at the Solstice. This is arranged by the local Chamber of Commerce to encourage Ski Tourism over Winter Break. Where I live, deepest cold hits in the middle of February and we are still worried about blossom damage on the fruit trees into March and April.

Coldest day

So the whole "inertia of the earth's heat" is all very well, but it doesn't account for what actually happens, does it?

When you ask why, they come up with a lot of meteorological hand-waving basically. They talk about humidity and local climate and how close you are to the ocean and I suppose computers are involved somewhere. It still does not seem fair and I find the Chamber of Commerce argument more convincing, meself.


This is a fox in Norway who really cannot wit for the days to get longer

In case you were wondering How Much Longer your days are going to get now that the Winter Solstice has come and gone, you can go here, plug in your city, and you will be able to find out.

Here in Virginia I get an extra minute of daylight tomorrow. Yippee! I'll continue to get an extra minute of sun every day till the Summer Solstice. I feel so special.

Folks living in Nome, Alaska will get close to two extra minutes tomorrow, but I do not begrudge it to them.


Are you looking forward to getting some sun eventually? What do you plan to do with it?

Creche 2010eJoanna here.

I love this pause between the astronomical new year the solstice and the calendar New Year. A sort of an interregnum comes that doesn't seem to belong to either the old year or the new. It's the time between.

In this time, my creche fills up. Tonight the baby is safe and warm in the manger. The sheep have come in from the pastures to adore the child. The turtle and a hedge hog have finally crawled in. An owl keeps an eye on everything. Angels hover. Mandy belly up

Over on the bookcase, the Magi travel toward Jerusalem. They'll arrive on Epiphany, January 6th.The Three Kings, a camel, and a couple of donkey make their way with awe and deliberation, led by an angel.

Me. I'm taking this week off from all worry and all duty. I relax. I think about the year to come and the next story to write. It's a good time.

The dog Mandy agrees with me.

The Lights of the Solstice

DSCN1430Joanna here, writing about the Winter Solstice.
And lights.

If you want to be picky about it, we're two days past the solstice, which was on December 21 this year, but I will just go ahead and talk about the Winter Solstice anyhow.

So. What is this Solstice I speak of?

Your ordinary woman in the Seventeenth or Eighteenth Centuries and in all the days right back to when women woke up and stretched and strolled out of the cave in Laxcaux, France, might watch the sunrise every morning.

Authorial intrusion here to say that I wake up every morning at sunrise because that is when the dog and cat wake up and they want my company. They are worried if I don't get up.
They are determined.

But, anyhow, let's say our historical woman is shuffling through the farm yard to empty the chamberpots or feed the chickens. She Before sunrise 2notices the sun does not just get out of bed any old where along the horizon. When she stands on the doorstep in July, the sun is rising from that pointy pine over there.

Every morning the sun gets out of bed a little to the left of where it got up the morning before.
Not enough so's you'd notice it from one day to the next.
But enough so's you notice it over weeks and months.

In December when she drags herself out of bed and stands shivering at the door, there's the sun waking up all the way over next to the church spire.

That extreme, leftmost sunrise she sees, on December 21 or 22, is the Winter Solstice. From then on, day by day, the sunrise heads back in the other direction. Our New Year is tied to that astronomical event, being a little inexact about it.

But did our pre-tech ancestors know about the Solstice?
And why would they care?

StonehengeSunrise1980sWe are not talking quantum mechanics here. Our actually-very-bright ancestors were well aware that the change in where the sun rose was related to length of day. The shortest day of the year is . . . ta dah! . . . the Winter Solstice. In London, that means about eight hours of daylight. Six months later, the Summer Solstice, June 21, is the longest day, with over sixteen hours of sun.
Well, folks noticed.
They lined up Stonehenge with the solstices because they noticed.

The long and the short of it is, folks used these astronomical events in practical ways — the Winter Solstice was a good time to slaughter beasts you couldn't afford to keep for the whole winter. And they celebrated.

The Solstice meant a long, cold, hungry time was still ahead, but from that date, every day was going to be a little longer. The sun had begun its journey back toward summer.

Is it any wonder folks celebrated this 'rebirth' of the sun with fire festivals? Traditional December celebrations often have a fire theme, linking to that ancient joy in the return of the sun. Lucia_in_Vienna

In Northern Europe, on Santa Lucia's Day, young girls are crowned with lighted candles. The old Iranian festival of Yalda celebrates the birth of Mithra, the God of Light and Truth, associated with the sun. One custom calls for eating red-colored fruit, perhaps to bring to mind the red of the sunrise.

Yule, the big Midwinter celebration of Germanic peoples, involved feasting, blood sacrifice, getting as drunk as possible, and lighting bonfires. Four hundred years ago the 'Yule log' was dragged in — a huge log, by preference — by the men of the house, who were rewarded with free beer for this service. It's said households competed to see who had the largest log.
Really, some things never change.

Bûche_de_Noël,_with_chocolate_moose_and_meringue_mushrooms,_2009_(2)If you make or buy a Bûche de Noël dessert, that's a modern interpretation of the Yule Log. Much easier to drag one of those into the house or whip it up in the kitchen than to bring in a Yule log.
In the spirit of author intrusion, I will say that I used to make these every year.

So, since we're celebrating the Season and enjoying the lights that remind us of the Solstice and the upbeat message it brings …

What kind of Holiday lights and candles do you have out now or are just packing carefully away?
Something beloved and traditional?
Or do you like to experiment every year?