Here in the Great Plains, the main topic of small talk is the weather. My fellow Nebraskans seem to take extreme pleasure in grousing about the Winter. I have a sneaking suspicion that many Nebraskans would grumble about the consistency of weather on Oahu. With this consideration in mind, I decided to tap out some random thoughts about Solstice.
Solstice officially happens today at 23:03 UTC–5:03 PM eastern Nebraska Time (CST). The Sun will reach its lowest place in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere and its highest place in the sky in the Southern Hemisphere.
Solstice, the word, derives from the combination of the Latin name for the Sun, Sol and the verb to stand still, sistere. We use this term because the apparent movement of the solar path on Earth seems to halt, before it reverses direction.
The December Solstice is when we have the shortest day of the year in Norfolk, Nebraska and the longest day of the year in Cape Town, South Africa. This phenomenon only happens south of the Tropic of Capricorn and north of the Tropic of Cancer. The opposite effect happens in June.
The first day of a season doesn’t mean that somewhere, somebody flicks a switch to change the weather. Our temperate zones’ climates are more or less ambiguous. We can have wintery weather in Autumn and autumn-like weather in Winter. The atmosphere has to overcome inertia because it’s so massive in size.
The modern paradigms and customs of the solstices are biased towards the dominant cultures of the Northern Hemisphere.
Out of curiosity, I looked for examples of cultural events and holidays that are celebrated in the summertime in the Southern Hemisphere. The holidays are generally adapted from Northern pagan winter customs.
When I thought about the designation of holidays from a southern perspective, the holidays might have been celebrated world wide on different days. Yuletime, which is at Midwinter, would be in June. If the birth of the Christian God had been in the winter of New Zealand and that religion had evolved in that vicinity, Christmas would have been celebrated on June 25th.
The popular depictions of December’s holiday characters is peculiar in the Southern latitudes. Santa is sometimes shown donning sunglasses wearing an Hawaiian shirt, sipping a Mai Tai while relaxing in a chaise louge. I’ve seen pictures of Santa’s sleigh being pulled by kangaroos.
Today’s weather forecast in Buenos Aires will probably include hot temperatures and high humidity. Residents might consider spending solstice at the beaches. The solstice forecast for the North American midwest normally calls for below freezing temperatures along with snow or sleet somewhere. Can you imagine wearing a Christmas sweater today in Mozambique?
Because I’m hunkering in for cold and snow here in Nebraska, it’s hard for me to imagine someone going windsurfing, or bushwalking today in Sydney, Australia. I have my bottle of sunscreen put away in the cupboard and my dry skin lotion on the nightstand.
The idea of four seasons in the Southern Hemisphere was shoehorned roughly into the southern cultures by settlers from Northern Europe. Springtime and Autumn in Australia don’t resemble the corresponding seasons we know in Europe and North America.
If you have a lot of money, you can have Spring and Summer year around in the temperate zones. As Summer draws to a close in Berlin, you can fly to Springtime in Montevideo. When it becomes too hot in Brazil, a post-solstice stay in Pretoria might seem inviting.
If you happen to be south of the Antarctic Circle, you’ll be experiencing 24 hours of sunshine at this time of year. Conversely, if you’re North of the Arctic Circle, this is when /you have day and night darkness.
The latitudes at the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn were named in antiquity when the Sun appeared directly overhead at these places. At that time, the Sun was located in the astrological signs of Cancer and Capricorn. Because of the precession of the equinoxes, the solstices now occur within the constellations of Taurus and Sagittarius. Shouldn’t we rename the tropical circles?
In many Asian cultures, the solstices are called Summer Extreme and Winter Extreme. These remind me of the old Midsummer and Midwinter of western culture. The names more accuratly describe the solstices as the peaks of Summer and Winter, not as the beginnings of the seasons.
It’s interesting to note that all of the planets in the Solar System have their own solstices. Becaus Uranus has an axial tilt of almost 98-degrees, its rotational axis lies almost parallel with the plane of the Solar System. At the time of the Solstices on Uranus, one or the other pole faces the Sun continuously and its counterpart lies in total darkness for the same amount of time. Aside from exact solstice, each polar area of Uranus receives 42 years of continuous sunshine, then 42 years of continuous darkness.
I can imagine solstices on other worlds and our own in the past and present. The more I think about Earth’s two solstices, the more sidetracked I get. So, I’ll just stop, for now.
Happy Winter or Summer Solstice, wherever you’re reading this.