December 21, The Moment of Solstice

Today is the winter solstice in the Northern hemisphere, when we mark the beginning of winter. It is the shortest day and longest night of the year. The winter solstice occurs in the moment when the Earth’s tilt away from the sun is at its maximum. Today the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, which runs through Australia, Chile, and northern South Africa. The noontime position of the sun is very low, and that position at noon barely changes in the days preceding and after the solstice. This gives us the word solstice, from the Latin solstitium — sol, the sun, and sistere, to stand still. Down in the Southern hemisphere they are celebrating the summer solstice today.
Christina Rossetti wrote: “In the bleak mid-winter / Frosty winds made moan, / Earth stood hard as iron, / Water like a stone / Snow had fallen, snow on snow, / Snow on snow, / In the bleak mid-winter, / Long ago.”

Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac”