I have very fond memories of celebrating the longest day of summer, the summer solstice. The pinnacle experience has to be when my husband and I watched the sunrise on top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National park near Bar Harbor, Maine. The first glint of golden rays occurred just after 4:30 in the morning as we shared a hot cup of coffee under a blanket, propped up on granite boulders.
Our morning on Cadillac Mountain transitioned into an entire day of exploring. We crammed our adventure into every last minute of sunlight.
When it comes to winter solstices, I don’t have any fond memories. Instead of a celebration, it is an acknowledgment that the northern hemisphere is finally swinging back towards longer days.
Winter solstice marks the longest night and shortest day due to the north pole reaching its maximum tilt away from the sun. In the northern hemisphere, it occurs Dec. 21 or 22 and is usually overshadowed by holiday preparations.
Several weeks ago, we drove six hours to Grand Rapids, Michigan. The continual gray sky made it seem like a weird time warp in which it was the evening for five hours straight. Our car was moving, but time stood still and the sun remained hidden behind a thick gray blanket.
The dismal sky prompted a discussion about when the sun would again be high in the sky and daylight would last longer. I tend to gravitate towards warm fires, blankets and cozy environments in the winter instead of outside celebrations.
In many ancient cultures, the day was revered as the return or rebirth of the sun. It is thought that the builders of Stonehenge in England were farmers who grew crops and cared for herds of animals.
Knowing the seasons and when they were changing was very important to them. Life was much more difficult in the winter. Shorter nights and the return of more potentially warming rays of sunlight were greatly anticipated.
Archaeologists believe Stonehenge was built in stages starting in 3000 BC. In 2500 BC, central stone formations were added to the ceremonial site. Gigantic sarsen stones and smaller bluestones were raised in the now familiar formation. Created before the invention of the wheel and without metal, Stonehenge was an engineering marvel.
The stones helped to mark the passage of time. The stone formation frames two significant events annually, midwinter sunset on the day of the winter solstice and the sunrise on the summer solstice.
Over time, the tallest trilithon has fallen. At the time Stonehenge was built, the setting sun would have been seen in the sliver between the two tallest uprights on the night of winter solstice.
From my couch, under a blanket, and next to a roaring fire, I can imagine the Neolithic people traveling in the bitter cold to witness the sun sinking down at Stonehenge. What a celebration the passage of time must have meant to them.
This year, the winter solstice ushered in forceful winter storms across the United States. Flash-freezing, record-setting snowfall and frigid wind chills all came in the first few official days of winter.
I’m not making a long trek to a stone circle, but I am heading to the store to replenish my emergency supplies for winter. I added blankets to the car and filled water jugs for the basement. A few more canned goods were added to the shelves, and the generator was checked and moved into place in the garage.
We are moving towards longer days and shorter nights, but also preparing for the most difficult winter weather. It is the harshness of winter that makes me appreciate the long days of summer even more.
John Steinbeck penned the words, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!