December 22, 2021 6:39 am
Winter Solstice by Nichola Andersen
 

In December, in the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice marks the 24-hour period with the fewest daylight hours of the year. 9 hours shorter than the midsummer solstice in June in fact. That is why the Winter Solstice is known as the shortest day of the year, or the longest night of the year. 

 

The winter solstice was yesterday and though it marks the first day of winter, from now on the days will be getting longer. In January, each day gains between 90 seconds and two minutes of daylight. In February, about two and a half minutes of daylight are added. The most noticeable sign of the days getting longer from now is the later sunset. In ancient civilisations across the world this time of year was a major cause for celebration: known as Saturnalia in Roman times, it is also still celebrated as Dongzhi in Asia and Yalda in Iran. Of course we all know about Stonehenge and how the solstice was marked in neo-pagan times in the UK with Yuletide and ‘Yule logs’, which very handily, in modern translation, was also a very good reason to make a chocolate cake or yule log yesterday! 

The word solstice is derived from the Latin word ‘solstitium’. Owing to the Sun appearing to ‘standstill’ in the sky when it reaches the Tropic of Capricorn, sol (meaning ‘sun’) and sistere (meaning to ‘standstill’). 

Though it is seen as the first day of winter, the fact the days start getting longer is a sign of hope! Spring is soon coming and you can see this in the behaviour of the birds. Yesterday it was very dark but the birds were singing their little hearts out – they know mating season will be around the corner. As the days lengthen and the dusk and dawn chorus start getting noisier and longer, do try and take the chance yourself to listen outside your window at dusk or dawn and you will see what I mean! 

Though the days start getting longer it is also still very cold – the sun is furthest away from the Northern hemisphere at this point and does little to warm up the earth in January – this means it is even more important to feed the birds! Until the end of January or beginning of February nature is relatively dormant but under the ground everything is building up towards Spring or the ‘vernal’ equinox in March. By then, the days will be increasing in length quite rapidly and in fact the Spring equinox will have 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night and after that we will start to gain around an extra two minutes of sunshine a day!

I was in my garden yesterday half an hour before sunrise to listen to the birds. Apart from the cold it is a truly magical experience. The blackbirds and robins were the first to make their presence known, though the tawny owls were still hooting all the way through. If you ever feel the need of cheering up then do go and listen – I shall be doing it on Christmas day too and will be feeding the birds at the same time!

 

 

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