Winter Solstice

Midwinter’s Night Dreams

December 18, 2018

earth at winter solsticeAt 2:23 p.m. on Friday, December 21, 2018, here in the Pacific Northwest, the earth will be tilted furthest away from the sun and we will experience the shortest number of daylight hours in the northern hemisphere annually.

For most of us, we have been taught that it is also the first day of winter. That, however, is disputed. Come to find out, most meteorologists now subscribe to a different theory which places our beginning of winter at the first of December.

Known as meteorological winter, the premise is that northern winters comprise the three coldest – and snowiest – months of the year. Those would be December, January, and February. While I would normally go to the Infallible Wikipedia for citation first, this topic deserves a more scientific site. Here’s what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has to say:

“Meteorologists and climatologists break the seasons down into groupings of three months based on the annual temperature cycle as well as our calendar. We generally think of winter as the coldest time of the year and summer as the warmest time of the year, with spring and fall being the transition seasons, and that is what the meteorological seasons are based on. Meteorological spring includes March, April, and May; meteorological summer includes June, July, and August; meteorological fall includes September, October, and November; and meteorological winter includes December, January, and February.”

stonehendge solstice

Stonehenge in England. The monument was erected as a way for earlier people to mark the lowest point of the sun each year.

Wait! I said to myself last year when I first learned of this discrepancy. You mean to tell me that WINTER starts on December First – not three weeks later? It was a welcome revelation.

Every fall I find myself missing summer and the longer days of light. I had come to dread winter, counting down the days until the solstice when the number of hours of daylight began to increase once again. But because I thought of winter as starting on the 21st or 22nd, that meant that spring didn’t arrive until March 21st or 22nd.

It never made sense. By September 1, the temperatures have cooled enough at night that I would think “It feels like fall.” Similarly, when December rolls around, it’s consistently 40 degrees and rainy – and quite often we will get a snowfall sometime in the first three weeks of the month.

Yet, with this new information I’ve been able to reset my internal calendar. Now, since I think of December 21/22 as being nearly a month into winter, the season doesn’t seem nearly so long or so bleak. Suddenly, once Christmas and New Year’s Days are over, it’s only two short months until spring arrives, not three. It’s made a huge difference in my outlook.

I also remind myself that there are locales where it is much, much worse. I will give thanks that I do not live in Bodo, Norway where, on the solstice, there will be less than one hour of light. A whopping 49 minutes in fact. According to Timeanddate.com:

Bodo Norway

Bodo Norway in winter

“December Solstice (Winter Solstice) is on Friday, December 21, 2018 at 11:22 pm in Bodø. In terms of daylight, this day is 23 hours, 11 minutes shorter than on June Solstice.”

Personally, I think there needs to be a national push to get the official first day of winter/spring/summer/fall changed. We can restore the two solstices to their rightful places as ‘midsummer’ and ‘midwinter’.

This year I’m embracing winter in all its glory. And on December 21st at 2:23 p.m. me, my hubby, and my son, daughter, and daughter’s significant other, will all raise a mug of hot buttered rum and salute the shortest daylight hours of the year at that moment when the earth pauses and the northern hemisphere begins its tilt back towards the sun. Happy winter everyone!

As always, a few links:

https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/news/meteorological-versus-astronomical-seasons

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice

https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/norway/bodo

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