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The Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice marks a quite special time of the year: the Sun rises somewhat tardily and prematurely beds. Ever since Summer, days have steadily shortened, and since the autumnal equinox, the hours of the night hasve exceeded daylight. Progressively, the weather has concomitantly reflected this darknening with crispness and cold - a cold that will now continue into the depths of Winter that follows the Solstice.

Seasons are understood in our broader community in varied and differing ways, and differently than through solely marking of daylight hours: for many, seasons are taken to better reflect the changes observed in the botanical or zöological worlds. For example, the birthing of lambs; or the nesting of birds; or the budding of trees; or the flowering of various shrubs. Indeed, in ancient Egypt, the flooding of the Nile, following the melting of the snow in the Ethiopian hills marked an important ‘seasonal’ change. We well know that in parts of northern Australia, six ‘seasons’ are similarly marked by a combination of growth and rain - and I personally well recall the coming of the tropical rains; the sudden appearance of the annual bloom of jellyfish; and the burning smoke from sugar-cane farms, each, in their own unique ways, marking annual flows.

In the contemporary Australian calendar, essentially a Gregorian calendar, the ‘season’ is marked as beginning on the first day of June, September, December and March. This is near unique and certainly different to most of the world, which instead marks the beginning of each season with the solstitial and equinoctial points within those same months. The Australian difference stems from colonial days, when British soldiers posted in Sydney, sweltering in heavy uniform in unaccustomed heat, pleaded for permission to wear Summer-dress earlier than the 21st of December. The Governor’s generosity for Summer dress as of the 1st of December has since determined the altered seasonal marking, with ramifications for the other seasons through the course of the year, with Winter therefore determined as of the first of June, rather than by the Solstice.

The Winter Solstice, still, marks that very special time: the darkening days halt, and though the days will continue to mark with ever greater intensity the bitter cold, the crystalline quality of the Sun’s radiant light will begin to again expand as daylight increases in duration and nights begin to again shorten.

For those of us who rise early each morning to be bathed by the rising of the Sun, we observe that in Summer, the Sun rose further somewhat in a south-easterly point on the horizon. By the time of the equinox, the rising was directly eastward and its rising position on the horizon changes markedly from day to day. And now, as we approach its northern most rising, nearly 60° from the Summer solstitial point, it the point of rising appears to stand still from day to day, and doesn’t seem to rise quite as high in the sky at noon, to only again set in late afternoon at nearly the same point from day to day and much further north than at its setting-point some six months prior.

If we were to daily represent the observed phenomena, connecting the night’s solar motion to reconnect its setting to its ensuing rising, the diurnal motion since January would look like an ever tightening spiral:

Souther Hemisphere Solstice

And hence the veracity of celebrations that make use of this inwarding spiral into which we call the light and rejoice at its returning expanding growth.