This is a hectic season with many reasons to celebrate. One of the oldest and, in many ways, practical rites during this time in December involves marking the winter solstice. Today, we know it as the shortest day (or longest night) in the Northern Hemisphere, and this year, the moment occurs at 6:38 pm Eastern time on Tuesday, December 21st.
However, this event used to be noted for much more useful reasons before the advent of modern calendars. Virtually every civilization from the Incas to the ancient Greeks marked the solstices in some way. Many cultures used the solstices to know when to plant crops, and many also saw them as evidence of their gods in action.
So, you may take an extra moment today to remember the significance of the Earth's point in its revolution. (There are many misconceptions about how the seasons work. A quick reminder: it is the tilt of the Earth's axis that drives the seasons. For a full explanation, please consult your local library or a reputable website.) But for those of us north of the equator, the days will be getting longer, and that's always a nice thing to think about.
-Megan Watzke, CXC