It’s the first day of winter 2022 in the Northern Hemisphere! Tonight is the longest night of the year, lasting a total of 14 hours and 46 minutes of nighttime where I live in Western Pennsylvania. If you lived in the Arctic Circle, the Sun would never rise today! Sounds like a great night to relax with friends and watch some meteors – look straight up if you are in the Northern Hemisphere.
Here’s what the Glossary of Astronomical Phenomena has to say about the Winter Solstice:
The winter solstice occurs when the Sun and Earth are at Solstice and the Sun’s elliptic pathway is not in the observer’s hemisphere. At the same time, the opposite hemisphere is having its summer solstice.
During the Winter Solstice, the day is the shortest it will be all year. It occurs near December 21st in the northern hemisphere and signals the start of winter.
The most direct sunlight (shadows with a 90° angle at noon) is at Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere.
Many cultures have folklore surrounding the Winter Solstice. The most familiar may be the Germanic traditions of Yule – where we get yuletide carols, the yule log, the Christmas tree, mistletoe, and the twelve nights of Christmas. These traditions blended with other festivities European cultures like the Celts, Scandinavians, and Romans to create many of the celebrations we still share with family today.
Specifically to the winter solstice, there are also old Norse and Germanic stories about the Wild Hunt. Usually headed by the one-eyed Norse god Odin, a gaggle of ghostly hunters traverse the north woods searching for souls to claim. The first warning sign is the sound of his ferocious dogs barking in the distance, then the wind brings a blinding fog. By the time you hear horses’ hooves, it’s too late!
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