Editorial: The ways of winter

December 9, 2011
By

As of this writing, we have dodged any snowfall this season. (Well, not counting that ridiculous outburst back in October.) But we can’t fool ourselves. Winter is on the way.

It comes on Dec. 22, the longest night of the year. Cold and ice are practically guaranteed in these parts.

Such things are certainties in time. But in nature, things are not always what they seem. We are actually closer to the Sun now than we are in the summer. Jan. 3 marks perihelion, the day our planet draws closest to our parent star in its oval-shaped orbit.

Winter comes not because we are far from the warming Sun, but because we are leaning away from it, keeping it low in the sky. The Earth tilts on its axis as it spins through space. The winter solstice, on Dec. 22, is the day the Northern Hemisphere is tilted the farthest from the Sun, whose rays strike us only glancing blows.

The Sun will treat that day like an uninterested store shopper, exiting quickly and offering little.

But things are not so bleak, or not for long. The solstice is the day that the Sun begins reversing the long descent it made in the sky through autumn, slowly sinking us into darkness. The Earth’s tilt will continue to shift. The days will continue to lengthen. Before you know it, it will be July—when, ironically, we are farthest from the Sun, yet leaning strongly into its warming rays.

Winter is a time of major religious holidays and secular celebration. Winter is also a difficult time for many, a grim reminder of oblivion and loss.

But however you view it, winter is not a thing. It is an ever-changing transition between autumn and spring. The longest night is also the moment that longer days begin their return.

We wish you happy holidays as we all travel together through the night.

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