by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1997. All rights reserved.
This is as dark as it gets: fifteen hours of night, give or take a few minutes, at latitudes near the 45th parallel and nine hours of daylight, if you're lucky.
It is the week of the winter "solstice," a word derived from Latin meaning "sun stands still." For two or three days the sun seems to rise and set in the same places on the horizon and at the same times, as if uncertain whether to continue on its southward journey or to start creeping north again.
Ancient peoples once kindled huge bonfires on these nights, designed to urge the sun to burn warmer and longer. Among the Goths and Saxons, this tradition evolved into the Yule Girth Festival. Night fires still burn for some folks at solstice.
Imagine not knowing how the sun's decline was related to the tilt of the Earth in its orbit. Could the southerly retreat continue until the sun vanishes altogether, as it does during a full eclipse? Or could it get stuck here, in this track across the heavens, locking these lands into eternal winter?
Continued at... The Sun Stands Still
Solstice Sunset atop Midnight Dome, Dawson City, Yukon, Canada