Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Solstice: The holiday that celebrates nerdiness

image from

Solstice is a big event in my family. We decorate the Solstice tree, string the house with as many holiday lights as we can before blowing the fuses, and open most of our presents. It's the day we celebrate our family, just the three of us. There are no outside obligations, like mom wondering why we didn't invite her over, or long drives in Christmas traffic. We often have a few friends over to share a good meal and some good bottles of wine. It's a relaxed, carefree, do whatever we want, kind of holiday.

Plus, Solstice is really frickin cool!

Solstice is a celebration of the return of sunlight. The Sun has traveled as far to the southern horizon as it can get in our hemisphere and it will now begin to climb back toward the north, bringing longer days with more light. Yes, I know, the Sun isn't actually going anywhere, the Earth is doing all of the traveling, and it's the angle of the Earth in relation to the Sun that changes the Sun's position.  Which is exactly why Solstice is so cool. The Earth has traveled to this specific position on it's journey around the Sun, marking the exact location where the days will begin to get longer for us. This is as dark as it's going to get.

Ancient peoples marked this occasion and celebrated with bonfires and music, which is where we get Christmas lights and Christmas carols (maybe I made that last one up). We can't light a bonfire in our yard anymore or the cops get upset, so we wind hundreds of colorful lightbulbs all over our homes to chase away the darkness, just as our ancestors did with their bonfires and candles.

I'm not a pagan (technically I guess I am because I'm not Christian), so my family doesn't attend the Pagan celebrations in our community. I guess you'd call me a Scientific Pagan; my holidays focus on astronomy and nature. I drink champagne when NASA sends a new probe into space, or when scientists discover something new about the universe. I was absolutely giddy when they discovered a new planet in the "Goldie Locks zone." And I cried when the last Space Shuttle flight landed. No more launches.

Solstice and Equinox are the holidays that let me fly my nerd flag, when I can debate with other nerds the exact time of day winter begins. The Winter Solstice happens at the exact same moment all over the world, and is officially clocked in Universal Time at 5:30 pm on December 22nd. But what is the exact time in our own timezone? Here is an article from Earthsky that will help you determine the exact clock-time for your timezone. For Pacific Daylight Time (my own timezone) I need to subtract 7 hours from the Universal Time (5:30 pm on the 22nd - 7 hours = 11:30 pm on the 21st). Did I do that right?

I'm a science nerd, but unfortunately not a math nerd.

The universe is more beautiful and mysterious than you can possibly imagine, filled with wonders and constantly evolving. As soon as you think you've got it figured out, a new discovery will shake your hypothesis into nonsense. And the Earth, our planet, our home, is this beautiful vessel filled with just as much beauty and wonder as the universe it was created from. We should honor that wonder. Recognize the impossible odds that allow us to be here.

This is why I celebrate Solstice. This is why I proudly call myself a nerd.


Anonymous said...

You are such a good writer. Love reading about your point of view!
Your sis, Margie

Jody Gehrman said...

Hey girlfriend! Can't wait to hear the idea this gave you for (drum roll please...) a book!