Winter – in the thick of it

Today was the Winter Solstice. That’s not news to any of you, I’m sure. To most in North America it’s the start of Winter. The official start. Growing up in Canada, I always knew Winter snuck in around Dec 1 – the calendar be damned. To many others, especially in northern Europe, it’s midwinter. Now, is this just a colloquialism or do they really mean it? Was my childhood self right that Winter came earlier than the learned astronomer said, when I felt that chill go up my spine as November ended?

Ancient Celts and other Gaelic peoples marked the end of summer on Nov 1 or Samhain. The Venerable Bede mentions two periods of midwinter, early Yule and later Yule, December and January. This was later condensed to the 12 days around Christmas. Yule became merely a synonym for Christmas in the 11th C BCE.

Today was the astronomical start of the sun’s northward journey. It’s gone as far south as it can on its east-west track and now heads northwards. Apparently it appeared to pause in the sky around noon but I was told never to look at the sun so I took no notice.

To the learned astronomer, ranged in columns, it’s the start of Winter. To millions of Gaels in spirit, it’s merely the high point. To the rest of us, I suppose Winter should begin whenever we feel it. Today in the state of Maryland, the temps hit 70 Fahrenheit so Winter was delayed a day. So was this post because – did you get that – it was 70 today! In the middle of winter! Or the start of it. Or – oh, I don’t know! I saw a bee this afternoon crawling on the ground. I’m going out to ask him. Maybe he’ll sting me and I’ll forget all about it.

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