With the winter solstice’s association with death and rebirth – these historic events of December 21st take on new resonance.
The glorious winter solstice is near, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere at least. Arriving on Friday, December 21, at 5:23 pm EST, the shortest day of the year marks the beginning of astronomical winter (for those in the Southern Hemisphere it’s the beginning of summer). The days have been getting shorter and shorter, but after the solstice, the daylight will slowly begin to stretch out again. In New York City, the 21st will deliver 9 hours, 17 minutes, and 18 seconds of daylight, by the time the summer solstice rolls around in June, we will be back up to 15 hours, 5 minutes, and 36 seconds of daylight. Not that we’re counting or anything.
The word solstice comes from Latin sol “sun” and sistere “to stand still.” On this day, the sun’s path reaches its southernmost point. Losing its momentum while it begins its return northward, its path appears to stand still. This cycle of gradual diminishing and reversal is associated with dying and being born again in many cultures. As the Farmers’ Almanac notes, for example, in Druidic traditions, "the Winter Solstice is thought of as a time of death and rebirth when Nature’s powers and our own souls are renewed." Adding that, the "birth of the New Sun is thought to revive the Earth’s aura in mystical ways, giving a new lease on life to spirits and souls of the dead."It has also hatched some very significant events in history. Now granted, you could probably randomly select any date and find events that somehow resonate. But for many of us, the winter solstice is pretty special … and it’s fascinating to see what historic events happened on this day that the sun stands still. Here are some of them.
1620: The Mayflower anchors in Plymouth harbor
1898: Radium is discovered
1937: World's first full-length animated feature premiers
In the Brothers Grimm version, the evil queen stepmother asks a hunter to take Snow White into the forest and kill her (this also happens in the Disney movie). However, in the story, she asks him to also bring her back Snow White’s lungs and liver. He can’t kill Snow White, so brings back a boar’s lungs and liver instead. The queen eats the lungs and liver, believing them to be Snow White’s. Yuck. In the book, the queen tries twice (unsuccessfully) to kill Snow White. The third time, when the queen gives her the apple (just like in the movie), Snow White faints and can’t be revived. She is placed in a glass coffin. A prince comes and wants to take her away (even though she is still asleep, which is pretty weird). The dwarves hesitantly allow it, and while she is being carried, the carriers trip, causing the poisoned apple to become dislodged from Snow White’s throat. She and the prince, of course, get married. The evil queen is invited. As a punishment, she is forced to wear burning-hot iron shoes and dance until she drops dead.
1968: Apollo 8 spacecraft is launched
Important to us TreeHuggers, it was also the first time that photos were taken of Earth as seen from deep space. The iconic "Earthrise" image was taken by Major William A. Anders, the lunar module pilot. The image gave us a new perspective of our home planet, and is credited by many for starting the environmental movement.
2012: The world doesn’t end
As Benjamin Anastas wrote in The New York Times, "To some, 2012 will bring the end of time; to others, it carries the promise of a new beginning..."
But in the end, it just brought another shortest day of the year, a sun standing still and starting its trek back to the longer days of summer. Which is actually pretty impressive all on its own.