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Merry Winter Solstice!

Today (or more specifically, tonight at 10:27 p.m. EST) marks the winter solstice. It's the day of the year when, even in Florida, sunlight comes at a premium. Old Sol doesn't make it nearly as high in the sky as usual and skirts off into the horizon more quickly than ever. Shadows grow longer. The air grows cooler (yes, even in the subtropics, we get a little chill).


Here's what Almanac.com has to say about the winter solstice:


The winter solstice marks the official beginning of astronomical winter (as opposed to meteorological winter, which starts about three weeks before the solstice). The winter solstice occurs once a year in each hemisphere: once in the Northern Hemisphere (in December) and once in the Southern Hemisphere (in June). It marks the start of each hemisphere's winter season. . . .

This is all thanks to Earth's tilted axis, which makes it so that one-half of Earth is pointed away from the Sun, and the other half is pointed towards it at the time of the solstice.

We often think of the winter solstice as an event that spans an entire calendar day, but the solstice actually lasts only a moment. Specifically, it's the exact moment when a hemisphere is tilted as far away from the Sun as possible. . . .

The word solstice comes from the Latin sol "sun," and sistere "to stand still." So, loosely translated, it means "sun stands still." Why? The Sun's path across the sky appears to freeze for a few days before and after the solstice. The change in its noontime elevation is so slight that the Sun's path seems to stay the same or stand still.

For thousands of years, ancient cultures across the northern hemisphere have marked the winter solstice in December. One of the most famous monuments in the Western world, Stonehenge, was built to commemorate the setting sun on the winter solstice. The ancient Romans threw parties, and hung wreaths, and exchanged candles for Saturnalia, a weeklong feast tied to the solstice. Those who celebrate Christmas with lights in their yard and a bright, merry tree in their family room are, indirectly, observing the winter solstice.


Whatever holiday you may celebrate and however you mark the days, may this day be filled with joy and wonder and light.


- Matt


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