The Winter Solstice marks the astronomical beginning of winter north of the equator. This year the solstice occurs on December 21, 2008 at 6:04 AM CST. However, meteorological winter, as defined by the onset of winter-like weather conditions, occurs earlier in the year as one moves farther north. Here in the Upper Midwest, meteorological winter runs from December 1 to the end of February.
For those of you who may be astronomically challenged, the Winter Solstice occurs when the sun sits at its farthest apparent point south in the sky and we have the fewest number of daylight hours in the year.
Contrary to what many people believe, the changing of the seasons is not caused by the Earth’s distance from the Sun. They are created by the 23’30” degree tilt of Earth’s axis off a line perpendicular to the ecliptic. This axial tilt affects how much sunlight each part of the planet receives at different times of the year. Axial tilt is difference between having seasons and not having seasons. It is the engine that drives the hydrologic cycle – and supports life on earth.
When the winter solstice arrives here in the northern hemisphere, the North Pole is tilted away from the Sun as shown in the illustration below:
In ancient times the solstice marked the beginning of both longer — and leaner days. Livestock were often slaughtered to provide meat and to save fodder, so feasting was one way our ancestors celebrated the Solstice. Fire festivals, which evolved into the Yule Log tradition are another ancient ritual.
You’ll have to provide your own feast, but here’s a bit of Yule Log cheer to warm your Solstice:
Yule Log – The Director’s Cut