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The Longest Night

By Rich Niccum, Education Services Manager

I have been in mourning since June 22. I have steadily watched the days get shorter and the nights grow longer and with these changes, faced the annual inevitable outcome that winter is on its way. Now don’t get me wrong; I like winter. Is it my favorite season? No. I do love the snow, curling up under a warm blanket at night, and drinking hot chocolate, but I am not a huge fan of the frigid temperatures.  

With that said, there is hope for those of us mourning the loss of light and warmth. We are less than a week away from one of the more significant astronomical events of the year, the Winter Solstice. On December 21, we will arrive at the “shortest day” of the year, but starting December 22, our days will gradually fill with more daylight and eventually the return of the warmth of spring.

In our part of the world, the solstice is an annual event that heralds the height of winter. The farther north of the equator you are, the more obvious the solstice presents itself. The Winter Solstice occurs on the day with the shortest period of daylight and the largest amount of darkness, when the sun’s maximum elevation in the sky is at its lowest. The solstice only lasts a brief moment in time, when the sun is exactly over the Tropic of Capricorn, but we mark it as an entire day on our calendar. If you would like to celebrate the solstice at the exact time here in Central Ohio, set your alarms for 11:28 am on December 21. 

Some cultures use the Winter Solstice to mark the beginning of winter, while others see it as the middle of winter. Some call it midwinter, the extreme winter, Yule or the Longest Night. Many people around the world link the Winter Solstice to rebirth, and herald its arrival with holidays, festivals, rituals and celebrations. For me, I will celebrate the arrival of winter with a walk in the woods, most likely at Hogback Ridge Park where my office is located. And as I walk I will celebrate the first day of winter with the chickadees, nuthatches, scurrying squirrels, and the sleeping trees. I will also revel in the thought that when I wake up on December 22, there will be just a smidge more light to the day, bringing us a little closer to my favorite season — spring. 

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