I am happy to see the sun today, even though it blinds me as I peer down a village lane and find it staring straight back. Its watery light makes the road shimmer and turns all the edges black.
Later, my face feels the sun’s warmth for a few precious moments when I happen to be in the right place at the right time. I stop to soak it up. This may not happen again for months.
Well, that was yesterday. Today a blanket of grey cloud covers the land, only visible after sunrise at 8am. However, from 22:23 GMT tonight, daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere will start to lengthen. Barely noticeable at first, with tiny daily increments, due to the fact that the solstice lives up to its Latin name “solstitium“, meaning “sun stands still”. The sun appears to do just that, halted in its southward journey, before turning its course northwards again.
But even a few seconds of extra light each day will be welcome. By New Year’s Day, sunset where I live will once more be as late as after 4pm. Progress (psychologically) indeed.
The Christmas urge to bring as much light into our lives as possible is not new. Humans have been marking this point of peak darkness with festivals for thousands of years. Gathering together to share food, drink and fire, and create a convivial glow, seems to be the natural thing to do.
In pre-Christian Europe people brought evergreens into the home, probably because the beautifully bright colour was believed to bring good luck and was drawn on to celebrate everlasting life and the sun’s renewal. Perfectly timed to afford protection before the onset of the “famine months” of January, February and March. A pagan theme that Christianity couldn’t shift but made palatable with a few Christian tweaks … think “The Holly and the Ivy“.
December was not such a time of scarcity because those animals that could not be sustained through the winter would have been recently slaughtered (giving fresh meat), and mead would have finished its fermentation process and be ready to drink.
Solstice = party time.
Back in the 21st century … I often advise my children not to wish their lives away when they declare with an assumed authority that being an adult is “so much better.”
So today, when I see this subdued solstice light, uninviting in every way, I feel I should practise as I preach and go out to enjoy the brief hours, before they disappear.
In the Southern Hemisphere, of course, the reverse sun-shift is taking place. Longer days will give way to longer nights. And when June comes, the Winter solstice festivals there will be celebrated in as deeply rooted a way as those in the North.
By which time, on 21 June, I will be revelling in my 16 hours, 35 minutes and 43 seconds of glorious daylight.
But for now I should get back to living in the moment…
You can see local times of sunset and sunrise all over the world here: https://www.timeanddate.com.