Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Won't Be Long Now



I am noticing that every year there is more and more attention paid to the Winter Solstice. On the radio this morning they where playing solstice-themed songs. I hadn’t even known they existed. They were also discussing Solstice parties. Some parents called in, to say their kids are being taught about Solstice in kindergarten and primary school, complete will little celebrations. Overall it seems that quite a few people are celebrating Solstice now, either in addition and in leu of religious festivities.  I've received a few cards and emails this year that actually wish me a Happy Solstice, unironically. And I'll be going to a party tonight.

Winter Solstice is an easy occasion to mark. It is obvious and observable, and the buildup to it is trackable. But the notion of celebrating it per se, used to confuse me. The shortest day. The deepest recess of winter. Is that not rather glum? Then it hit me, that what's being celebrated is the turning point. The shortest day is also the end of shortening days. Days will only get longer from here on.

In Ireland, there remains a dread of winter so deep and so serious, I can only attribute it to persistence of cultural memory. For today, in their heated homes and vehicles, few are affected by the relentlessness of the elements. Few rely on daylight to seek sustenance. Cold and wind and early nightfall make hardly an impact on most people's work lives and social lives. But the dread remains, as if there is a suspicion that all of this [sweeping gesture] stuff can go at any time, leaving only the brutal realities of landscape and weather. And then where would we be?

There is an undercurrent of anxiety that begins in late October and grows, slowly and steadily, through the following month through the early days of December. Its buzz can be heard, almost like an electric current.

Then, with Solstice, comes the release.

"Sure it won't be long now!" I hear again and again this week.

Even though there are still two months of winter remaining, there is a collective feeling of having survived the difficult part, thus being encouraged to hang on for the rest.

Having always enjoyed winter, I cannot emotionally partake in this subtle cultural drama. Still the longer I live here, the more it feels as if I sense Winter Solstice, as a turning point and a special occasion at least. I have even developed a ritual. I go out on my bike and attempt to catch the last of the daylight, stopping at the beach or along a forest path to watch the light wane. And then, with a sense of having witnessed something important, I ride home in the semi-darkness, feeling something akin to "it won't be long now" ...despite knowing rather too well that the harshest winter months are still ahead.



30 comments:

  1. I'm always glad to see the solstice. It's about that time (not quite the same date, within a week or so) that the sunset starts getting later. My ride home gets easier because I'm able to see my way down a hill I start on that is lit only by car headlights. It feels much safer to have some background light to go on as I work my way down the shoulder, which is steadily falling into the creek.

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    1. "...not quite the same date, within a week or so) that the sunset starts getting later..."

      Oh! And I thought I was imaging that. Obviously I need tor head up on this.

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    2. Yup, mostly due to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equation_of_time. There are some other interesting effects that change twilight length through the year too though. In Melbourne we've got until the 4th or 5th of January until we start losing evening light. Mornings are starting to creep later though.

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  2. Well, I think it's sort of natural, Emotional, Chemical, Etc. Leading up to this day I've been feeling rather run down, as the weather gets drearier and drearier; it seems to be peaking now and I anticipate my energy level starting to rebound. It correlates nicely with the fact that as far as recorded time man has always had some sort of celebration at this time of year early Pagans, Druids, etc. celebrated the winter Solstice and Christmas is at this time of year simply because it was convenient, since there was already a celebration at this time of the year and they did not know exactly what day Jesus was born on. There are other reasons as well I am sure, but increasingly as many people move away from religion centered holidays, it only makes sense to replace them with something similar; something that everyone can enjoy without some other religious or cultural connotations getting in the way.
    I guess thanks to Seinfeld we have Festivus, which for all practical purposes is a Solstice celebration.
    I like it! - masmojo

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  3. My kids were raised in a smallish, isolated, town where many lived off the land. Their school very much talked about solstice and equinox and many other phenomenons. It's was natural. Even though the daylight hours will be increasing this is still the first day of winter and whatever joy we experience on the marking of this day is like being tricked into we're half way through something that's really just beginning…the cold months. If you're living and working in the outdoors it's rough.

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    1. Interestingly the people I know who work outdoors - i.e. farmers and hunters - seem the least daunted by winter, whereas those who work in offices the most. Probably because for them it means complete lack of daylight.

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    2. I think those who work outdoors are generally more stoic than those who spend their days indoors in air conditioned comfort, at least here farmers may complain about the weather as it affects crops or livestock (torrential rain, cyclones, prolonged dry spells etc) but really they just get on with what they do regardless of t
      he season. I agree with the writer above, living and working in the outdoors must be difficult.




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  4. It really is the dark ages here in America, or at least my corner of it. They can't do Halloween in the schools because some of the parents think it's satanism. A solistice celebration in kindergarten would have them marching in the streets.

    Walter

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    1. Meanwhile, Halloween here grows ever more elaborate each year. There are community-wide parades and haunted houses. The kids even get time off school.

      Then again, there is now also "Black Friday." Despite the lack of Thanksgiving. Madness. My friends reckon it is because of the South Park cartoon.

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  5. My family has celebrated the solstice for many, many years. They kept up Christmas until my brother and I reached adulthood, and then completely switched over to celebrating the solstice.

    Fun fact though... and I don't know if this is true in all parts of the world or just here, but while the solstice is the shortest day of the year, it's not symmetrical. In other words there's not an even distribution between latest sunrise and earliest sunset. Sooo... here in Denver, the earliest sunsets are at 4:35pm - usually lasts about a week from December 4-10 or so. Then the sun starts setting later each day. And conversely, the sunrises keep getting later through the end of December, and then hover at 7:21am all the way until January 10 or so before they start getting earlier. I have no idea why this is so, but I'm sure it has something to do with orbital mechanics.

    Anyhow, since I am decidedly NOT a morning person, and since CatMan and I always ride in the afternoons, we've already passed the "cycling solstice" as we call it, and the accompanying feeling that "it won't be long now" until we can stay out riding for 5 hours or more without having to race the sun home!

    May the returning of the light fill you all with the joy and happiness of new beginnings!

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    1. Same to you. And I am definitely going to read up on the asymmetry. I had noticed it here too, but thought I was imagining it.

      I am okay in the mornings, but feel a bit out of it when it's still dark out. The sun doesn't rise until some time after 8am these days!

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    2. Not to sound snarky and sarcastic, but as a life long night owl, I think that sunrise after 8am sounds downright civilized - as long as there's a rule that nobody should EVER have to get up before the sun!

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    3. Don't come over in the summer or you'll be getting up before you've gone to bed

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  6. I am attending a winter solstice bike ride this evening. We are lighting up our bikes. Last winter I attended a solstice gathering amidst our earth clock (like a mini Stonehenge) erected by our local Druid order. And yes, solstice parties and celebrations seem to be gaining ground here. I can identify with the natural world more than organized religion. Perhaps this philosophy is growing? BTW, we gain 10 mins. of afternoon light by the New Year - now that's something to celebrate!

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    1. 10 minutes by the New Year - Woo Hoo! I never thought about it that way. I've always heard its about 2 minutes per day, so that makes sense. 2 minutes a day is half an hour every 2 weeks. Bring it on!

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    2. speaking of megalithic structures, Raphoe Stone Circle looked rather fetching today!
      {here}

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    3. And sure weren't you there for the Raphoe Solstice 500?

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  7. That ain't winter.

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    1. That's what I said when I first moved here. Then again, see:

      "Dry Cold" and "Wet Cold"

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    2. Funny, I was riding my bike to work this morning and I just had this feeling like "oh this is "winter" air", it really wasn't nearly as cold as a week ago, BUT I just had this feeling like it's a different kind of cold. Not sure if that makes any sense at all!? - masmojo

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  8. Recognizing and celebrating Solstice and the turning of the seasons is just one way some people, like Wiccans, are still connecting with the earth. Materialism and technology has distanced us from that connection. I think many are trying to find their way back because the way we know is not sustaining us or the planet.

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  9. 'Won't be long now' does not quite sync with Mid-Continent climate.

    Sure it got dark early, but we had relatively balmy pleasant riding weather into the first week of December. Temps today rebounded a bit after a nasty cold spell, but if weather trends hold true, it's not likely cyclists here in Chicago will be riding sans heavy outer gear until sometime in April.

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  10. Haven't seen any Solstice cards but certainly people have been talking about for a decade at least, I reckon. Yes, earliest sunset is usually around 14th December (St Lucy's day, I think) and sunrises carry on getting later till January. I don't so much mind dark evenings but dark mornings I find difficult; I just stay in bed! It's just unnatural to me to get up before the sun, really can't do it except on exceptional occasions.

    And yes, Black Friday has spread, also to Germany. At least, I got a marketing email on the occasion from a well known large German retailer of bike bits.

    As for indoor and outdoor, isn't winter the traditional season for many outdoor activities, such as hunting and shooting? I guess those aren't so common now.(!) But also for winter fairs, of course, and obviously skiing and skating and, of course, the football season is (or was originally) centred on winter not summer. Not forgetting cyclocross...

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  11. Documentaries about Stonehenge have, over the past 5-10 years been emphasising it's use to tell the winter solstice, rather than the summer. It is now believed to be the more relevant date, for our farming forebears.

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  12. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the globe to you, in outback Oz, I feel exactly the same about the next 2 months - except its the high temps I fear. Our daytime maximums will be uniformly above 35c , with some weeklong passages well into the mid 40s. Only time I can ride is late at night which is, admittedly, beautiful and quite do-able with modern lights. My family, not being religeous, get into Saturnalia as an alternative to Christmas crap. We don't get into the traditional cross-dressing associated with that festival however. Cheers!

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    1. I'm also from the land down under though not outback; during the hottest part of summer I head out very early and that way I have several hours of riding before the heat becomes too much. I think in the outback however, the heat arrives with the dawn.

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  13. One thing I have noticed with increasing middle age is that winter - like the year itself - passes by more and more quickly. I love all the seasons. When I was just a little girl winter seemed to go on f.o.r.e.v.e.r. Now it seems we've hardly put the sun lounger in the garden away because of the onset of winter, and the spring bulbs are poking their noses through the soil and the birds are tweeting the onset of spring again! Sincere best wishes for Christmas to you V, and all of your lovely followers on here.

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  14. Expectations matter. In Mallorca, most of the rainy days should be left behind by now. A time of mostly sunny, crispy and cool days lays ahead. Once our Christmas season is over: bonfires, costumes, European cyclists and then Easter and spring in the air. Tempus fugit.
    Bon Nadal Velouria!

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  15. Well, it's not a coincidence that the birth of Jesus Christ was made to match with the winter solstice by the Catholic Church. But this is not the place to discuss that (or is it?).

    I live in the tropics, near the Caribbean Sea, and for me it's freezing when it's 18ºC. RIght now I'm wearing a scarf, I kid you not!

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  16. Okay, I am posting this here so I have a record of it: First week of January, and already it gets dark at 5pm as opposed to 4pm before the solstice. That's pretty quick progress; I remembered it being slower.

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