Today the Winter Solstice officially occurred (in my hemisphere) at 5:44 this morning. It is the official start of winter and in Philadelphia we will have nine hours and nineteen minutes of daylight; the shortest day of the year, hence the longest night. The days have been getting shorter since the summer Solstice, and at last they will begin getting longer again. The Pagan in me celebrates the solstices as well as the equinoxes as I move through the year.
I am glad to see 2016 wane, but I’m not optimistic about 2017. On a macro level I’m scared about what President Trump will mean for the US, and freedom as we understand it but on a personal level I waver between optimism and fear, between abundance and scarcity. The winter solstice is emblematic of my struggle. The winter nights are cold and long. As darkness falls today at 4:39 and another lonely night stretches out before me I appreciate each drop of lemony sunlight.
Each year as fall winds down I fantasize about the coming winter. Snow blankets the world and it stills and quiets. My house rather than drafty and cold is cozy and warm. I’m surrounded by a stack of books and no one expects me to show up anywhere anytime soon. I make soups and braises and bake. Naturally there is someone there with their own stack of books, and a willingness to watch old movies. I am not thinking about getting back to the gym because I’d rather get back in bed.
As good as that sounds I will spend winter like everyone else. I’ll slog to work through snow and slush, while I try to keep my thermostat as low as I can stand and wait for spring. In my optimistic moments I get the job I want, and I will need to be there daily no matter the weather. I’ll probably make the long drive in the dark in both directions for a few months. I will be grateful to have a job, and grumpy about the drive.
There is something magical about the solstice, something primal and visceral. I feel its approach, searching the skies for answers and a guiding star. The worst of winter looms ahead but I remind myself that the days are getting longer; two minutes each day. I will tally and relish those minutes. Until the year I turned 50, on January 1st I would start counting the days until my birthday. It was 90 days away, the Vernal Equinox 80. Spring, almost in reach.
In Philadelphia spring comes early. I grew up on Long Island just a bit farther north, and a little colder. For years I lived upstate New York where the locals joked that we had two seasons; winter and fourth of July. By the time my birthday rolls around it will be full on spring here, and my redbud tree will be blooming. It will be time to do some gardening. I can make it.
Humans have a natural urge to hunker down and chase warmth as the cold winds blow and snow and ice assault us. Countering that urge are pressures to engage in ambitious and draining New Year’s resolutions. We vow to diet and exercise and make positive changes to our routines, when what we really want to do is wrap up in a cozy blanket and catch up on our reading or TV shows. Spring is a much more sensible time to make (and keep) resolutions. Vernal Equinox resolutions sound more do-able. Maybe I can start a new trend this winter solstice.