The darkest of days

    I’m taking a moment to appreciate the impending holidays, and to recognize what good fortune it is that they take place exactly now.

    How lucky for us that Jesus just happened to be born in late December, and that the Jews’ consecrated oil miraculously lasted eight days at this time of year. Because without all the trappings and distractions of the holidays- the lights, the food, the boozy parties, the presents and decorations- the winter solstice would be a really depressing time to get through.

    Roughly 23 seconds of daylight are being shaved off each day, and this will continue until December 22, the 2011 winter solstice. On this day the shadows are longest, as the sun is at its lowest point in the sky for the whole year.

    Daylight savings notwithstanding, it’s still dark when we get up. The pale sunlight that does reach us begins to fade again by midafternoon. And we’re lucky- in Barrow, Alaska the sun doesn’t even rise above the horizon now. Lots of places are eking by with only a couple of hours of true daylight. Our latitude means we’re still getting around nine hours. But compared to the summer solstice when the days are closer to fifteen hours long, this is a lot of darkness.

    In art and literature, darkness is the classic metaphor for despair. It won’t be until after the New Year, when the post-holiday budgetary and dietary austerity measures kick in, that I’ll really feel the cold and dark encroaching. Fortunately, by then I can console myself that although I may not actually be able to perceive it, the days are indeed getting longer, and lightness is again on its way.

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