According to various calculations, standards and clocks, Winter solstice in the northern hemisphere will occur this year at 11:12 AM UTC, on December 21, which is 4:12 AM Mountain Standard Time, 6:12 AM Eastern Time and 3:12 AM Pacific Time. While it happens technically at a moment in time, the recognition and celebration may occur at any convenient time, or period of time, that is near to this point when the sun reaches it farthest journey south along the horizon and starts back on it’s northward trek toward Spring and Summer.
UTC or coordinated universal time or the world clock computed by atomic clocks in 70 different laboratories around the world is one of the successors to GMT, or Greenwich Mean Time, based in the UK. Both are used and does it really matter to most people which clock is used? Also why isn’t UTC the abbreviation for Universal Time Clock instead of Coordinated Universal Time. This is really quite trivial, of little consequence and in the larger scheme of things rather unimportant to most of us. The earth continues its movements regardless who is measuring it, how and why.
It is the earth’s rotation around the sun that brings us day and night in the 24 hour cycles that we call a day and it’s the tilt of the earth that provides the various times for observing different seasons and their accompanying changes. The differing amounts of light and dark vary according to those times in the calendar year. Two solstices, Winter and Summer, are when we observe the days with the least or greatest amount of sunlight and two equinoxes, Spring and Fall, are when night and day are approximately equal lengths of time. These are times to celebrate our relationship with Panchamama and find ways to celebrate wherever we are.
Because I have the privilege and blessing of watching the sunrise almost every morning from my desk facing east, I feel very connected to the sun and it’s movements across the sky. Each new day is a gift, open to tremendous possibilities. One comment, attributed to Mark Twain, is “there is nothing that cannot happen today.” That means we have the unparalleled opportunity to create something new this day or to revisit those things that add meaning, value and purpose to our lives.
The Romans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a weeklong period of lawless celebration between December 17-25. Saturnalia was the most popular holiday of the Roman year. Catullus (XIV) describes it as “the best of days,” and Seneca complains that the “whole mob has let itself go in pleasures” Pliny the Younger writes that he retired to his room while the rest of the household celebrated. It was an occasion for celebration, visits to friends, and the presentation of gifts, particularly wax candles, perhaps to signify the returning light after the solstice. Aulus Gellius relates that he and his Roman compatriots would gather at the baths in Athens, where they were studying, and pose difficult questions to one another on the ancient poets, a crown of laurel being dedicated to Saturn if no one could answer them.
Winter solstice in this hemisphere celebrates the return of the light from the longer hours of darkness, thus we have Midwinter celebrations that range from Christmas to the pagan rituals celebrated before the Christians adopted the December 25 date set by Julius Caesar and the Julian calendar.
However we choose to celebrate Winter solstice, it can be a time of increasing our “circle of illumination” which is the edge of the sunlit hemisphere. That phenomenon forms a circular boundary separating the earth into a light half and a dark half. As the hours of daylight begin to increase, we can expand our awareness of the essential connection between us earthlings and that other force that makes our world such a fascinating place in which to be fully alive and an active participant.
We have an opportunity to make a connection between our minds and that which we can observe in our natural world and our spirits and that which we can sense in the ethereal realm. Let that be our personal “circle of illumination” this season, increasing the light and appreciation for these wonder-filled celebrations during the holidays. May your holidays be full of the richness of renewal, the energy of enthusiasm and the brilliance of beauty. Such are the gifts laid before us. Joy to the world!