Happy Solstice!

We have reached the shortest day of the year for Northerners, though the sun will continue to rise later for a few more days, even as the sunset has already been setting later these last few days.

The stellar day, the rotation time of the Earth on its axis, the time that passes while a star returns to the same position in the sky, is about 23 hours, 56 minutes. The Earth rotates 366 1/4 times/year. The time between noons averages 24 hours. This is because while the Earth rotates, it shifts slightly in its orbit, and now must rotate a little more to put the sun in the same point in the sky.

We are near our closest approach to the sun now, so the Earth is moving faster in its orbit, and must rotate a little more to get back to true noon. As a result, the time between noons is a little over 24 hours.

The solstice has not always been December 21/22. The spinning (rotating) Earth wobbles on its axis. Like a spinning top, this wobble is very slow compared to the rotation, about 26,000 years for a complete wobble. The North Pole points to three different pole stars over this period, with Polaris looking most northerly in 2017.

We see the wobble as a Precession (moving earlier) of the Equinoxes. From the viewpoint of the winter (Northern) solstice, the day the northern tip of the axis points most away is moving earlier in the year, about one day every 70 years.

Seventeen centuries ago, when the Church formally chose the date of Jesus’ birth, the solstice would have been 23 days later, January 16.

Much thanks to Bill O’Reilly and others who have triggered numerous stories on how the birth date of Jesus was chosen to compete with Saturnalia, the refusal of many early American Christians through the early 19th century to celebrate Christmas (it’s not in the Bible), the contribution of Jewish immigrants to creating “traditional” Christmas songs about the weather and community, and the well-posed questions from our legislators as to why Congress is celebrating the birth of Jesus by cutting health, housing, and education for the poor while providing even more tax cuts for the rich and profits to corporations.

For myself, this part of the year will be a time of renewal, a time to consider who I am and who and what I value, a time for family and friends. A time to hold in my heart and find ways to help those in need. May you find it a time to restore your strength and values as well.

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