Winter in America
December 15, 2005
Days seem to be going by a bit too fast?
That’s because they are. We are closing in on the exact moment when the earth’s rotation tilts the Northern Hemisphere, that’s us, to its farthest distance from the sun. Soon this mortal sphere will be leaning away from the sun at an inclination of 23.5 degrees. This Wednesday at precisely 11:35 a.m. local time, we will officially move into winter.
On that day, the cycle of shortened days and lengthening nights will begin to reverse itself. Here in Aspen, the shortest day of the year will actually be Tuesday the 20th, when the sun will rise at 7:22 a.m. and set at 4:47 that afternoon, giving us just nine hours and 25 minutes of daylight.
The winter solstice, as the moment of the reversal is called, has historically been marked by joyous celebration. In ancient times the lives of people revolved around the seasons of the sun. Spring marked the planting season, summer the growing season. Fall was when harvests were made and winter, well, winter was the season to survive.
So when the turn was made and the daylight hours began to lengthen, it was a good day indeed. It is no accident that the cultures of the Northern Hemisphere designed their calendars to celebrate the rebirth of the new year around this celestial moment.
From the Native American tribes in the desert Southwest, who built entire cities around the declination of the sun at the times of the solstice, to the Druids of Northern Europe, who erected stone monuments to capture the moment, the peoples of the world have always regarded this time as special.
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Locally we regard it as special because it marks the time of year when we ring in both ski season and the prosperity it brings. Unlike our forebears, whose good fortune was dependent on the cycles of the sun and the earth, our riches are sourced from the well-heeled visitors who come to eat, drink, shop and, well, celebrate the season in a very 21st-century kind of way.
Still, as we get up in the morning this week and see the steam rise from the streams, sight the white rabbits scurrying through the snow, watch the icicles drip in the noontime sun, and feel the chill of the winter air, let’s take a moment to remember that we are all a part of a very mystical, mortal, natural cycle. And regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, take a moment to extend gratitude for the cycles of the sun and the rotation of the earth.
It is, after all, what gives all of us our best days.
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