AUTHOR: linda TITLE: A Winter Solstice Wandering DATE: 12:31:00 PM ----- BODY:

Today is "winter solstice," the instant when the Sun's position in the sky is at its greatest
angular distance on the other side of the equatorial plane from the observer, meaning today's the shortest day and the longest night of the year (not to be confused with the darkest
day or night).

Of course, this is relative to us on the Northern Hemisphere. Those on the Southern Hemisphere are celebrating the long days and short nights of summertime now.

The seasonal significance of the Winter solstice varies to astronomically mark both the
beginning or middle of a hemisphere's Winter, and commonly a full 24-hour period though
Winter Solstice itself lasts only an instant. The word solstice derives from Latin sol (Sun) and sistere (stand still), Winter Solstice meaning Sun stand still in winter. Today it's about 53 degrees in San Francisco, and a faraway sun has broken through the dull morning cloudcast.

Worldwide, some of the greatest architectures were built so they aligned with the solstices
and equinoxes, and interpretation of these events have been celebrated for thousands of years
-- like the candles, evergreen, feasting and generosity of the Christmas season. Tradition has it that one stays up all night in order to be assured the sun does rise the next day. Like Groundhog Day.

My ancestors, the early Germans built a stone altar to Hertha, goddess of domesticity and the home, during winter solstice. With a fire of fir boughs stoked on the altar, Hertha was able to descend through the smoke and guide those who were wise in Saga lore to foretell the fortunes of those at the feast.

To me, this is always the kind of time that's busy and cold and emotionally complicated but full of simple wonders... I agree with Earl W. Count, in 4,000 Years of Christmas, who likens Christmas to the web in a loom, where the pattern changes as the mind changes: "at first, we are not sure that we discern the pattern, but at last we see that, unknown to the weavers themselves, something has taken shape before our eyes, and that they have made something very beautiful, something which compels our understanding."

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