Winter solstice brings shortest day

As the earth makes its majestic circle around the sun, it gives us the seasons.
I bet a lot of you here in the north figure that the earth gets cold because it is further from the sun in the winter–right? Well, wrong! As a matter of fact, the earth is closer to the sun during our winter than it is in the summer.
How can this be?
The real cause of the seasons is the tilt of the earth. If you could look at the sun and the earth together, you would see that the earth is tilted away from its north/south axis by about 23 1/2 degrees. So as the earth rotates around the sun, the sun’s rays do not fall with the same strength on all parts of the surface.
In the summer, the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun, which means its rays fall on us fairly directly. The sun feels hot, the earth gets nice and warm, plants grow, and all those good things happen.
But in the winter, we are tilted away from the sun so the rays fall on us at a much more oblique angle. We start to cool off, and then we get cold (at times really awfully cold).
Note that it is the exact opposite in the southern hemisphere.
On one certain day, our part of the earth receives the least amount of sunlight. This is called the winter solstice. On this day (Dec. 22), the sun appears to be as low on the horizon as it can get.
All the ancient civilizations knew about the earth’s motion around the sun and the special days–the equinoxes and the solstices. They knew that the sun governed the seasons, and therefore agriculture and the food supply.
Most of them had big celebrations on Dec. 22 because they knew that the days now were going to get longer–and spring would come eventually.
Stonehenge, with its huge upright stones, was really an observatory, which could pinpoint, almost to the second, the special days of both sun and moon. There are many other ancient temples to the sun in Mexico, Cambodia, the Mediterranean, and so on (some 5,000 years old).
Another special day happens near the solstice, too, and that is the birth of Jesus. Back in 350 A.D., Pope Julius I declared that Dec. 25 should be the official Christmas Day. And so it has been ever since.
But over the centuries, many of the pagan celebrations were integrated into the celebration of Christmas. The Germanic tribes, the Romans, and the Druids all used trees for decoration. We still do that today.
The giving of gifts was adopted into the Christian tradition. Lights became another Christian symbol from the feast of St. Lucia, or stringing of lights on a tree.
So our Christmas contains many customs adapted from the ancients. Not the least of these, for us here in the north, is that the shortest day of the year has gone by.
The winter solstice is past, and the days gradually will get longer. We’ll be sure to get more warmth and sunlight–some day.

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