The first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere is marked by the winter solstice. This usually happens on or about December 21st every year. It is notable because it is the shortest day of the year in terms of daylight hours.
This date generally comes and goes in my life and gets lost in the rush of the Holiday season. I will forget that after the winter solstice we actually start to gain daylight again. It can be tough to recognize that fact when we are waking up in the dark, leaving for work or school in the dark, and sitting down to dinner with the darkness outside our kitchen windows.
For the last several years I have played a game with myself where I will look at the darkness level outside at 5PM on New Year’s Day (generally just about pitch black) and then notice it again about a month later at 5PM on Super Bowl Sunday (significantly brighter). It is kind of a silly game but it helps me appreciate the work that the sun is doing for us in the middle of winter.
If that silly game is my tradition for celebrating the increase in the sunshine, I am not alone. There have been many customs around the winter solstice throughout history. The Vikings would light fires to ward off spirits during the longest night of the year. The Roman festival of Saturnalia included gift-giving, games, and feasts for several days. Farmers in Japan celebrate the return of the longer days that will nurture their crops through the upcoming months.
Winter in Upstate New York can be long if I let it. There is no shortage of snow and cold. I feel like I am in good company with my little tradition of checking the light levels a months apart. If Vikings and ancient Romans had their ceremonies, there is nothing wrong with me stepping onto my front porch to celebrate my winter ritual.