Short Days and Dark Nights

December 14, 2008


Clearly a winter sunset. Not just the leafless tress but the sun is different, isn’t it?

Our earth rotates about its sun, spinning on its axis, which is also tilted. Because of this tilt, in the winter the Northern Hemisphere receives less direct sunlight (creating a cold season) while the Southern Hemisphere receives more direct sunlight (creating a warm season). The side of the earth that is angled closest to the sun changes as we traverse our orbit and the seasons change. The furthest we are from the sun marks the winter solstice and we experience the shortest day and the longest night. The sun never quite seems to rise high enough here on the east coast of the US. The word solstice comes from Latin- describing the seeming ” sun-stoppage” of the sun before the days begin to get longer and nights shorter.

Okay, that might not have been the best description. Ignite Learning! has a good visual animation and very clear explanation. 

All the world’s cultures celebrations of light are linked to this time when it seems to be darker and darker. Before people could explain the disappearing daylight, they created many stories and celebrations about the sun’s rebirth or return to explain the phenomenon. Trusting that the sun will return to us and that the light may miraculously grow warmer and sustain us is the other side of the scientific explanation. A modern day celebration tradition has been created by Paul Winter and Friends at the unique and wonderful Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City.