DELMARVA ALMANAC

Celebrating The Delmarva Solstice

by Dana Kester-McCabe

If you are looking for an alternative to all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season take an evening stroll on the solstice and enjoy the peaceful beauty of the magnificent Delmarva sky.

People have been observing and celebrating notable astronomical events throughout human history. While the Judeo-Christian holidays have been and still are very popular here, more and more people are starting once again to create celebrations based on these natural events. The winter solstice can be a nice antidote to the over commercialization of Christmas which actually has some of its roots in the Celtic Yuletide celebration which originally celebrated – you guessed it the solstice.

Winter solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. The first part of the earth’s yearlong orbit around the sun is called stationary or direct. The solstice occurs when it begins to come back around again for that part of the trip which is called retrograde. This December that moment will be on the 21st at 5:03pm which will be about a half hour after sunset. On that day the sun will rise at its farthest south east point and set at its farthest south west point. If you go outside and look at your shadow at noon it will be the longest it will be all year long.

We tend to call the solstice the beginning of winter. According to meteorologists winter actually begins on December 1st. Ancient peoples saw the solstice as the midpoint of winter. They had a "the glass is half full" attitude. They celebrated the solstice as that point when the days started getting longer again, or the “coming of the light.” It was a way of bucking up for the deepest part of winter that was still to come.

Whether or not you think there is anything special about that moment of the solstice, during December the low arc of the sun makes its’ rising and setting really magical with brilliant purples, pinks, gold and orange. The light show is especially spectacular along the waters of Delmarva. If you are looking for an alternative to all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season take an evening stroll on the solstice and enjoy the peaceful beauty of the magnificent Delmarva sky.

Our winters are fairly mild compared to some places. And the weather is often very nice on the solstice making brisk evening walks very pleasant. After 9pm this is a great time of year to see the milky way in all its glory. The Geminid meteor shower peaks on December 13th and 14th. It is said to be one of the best meteor showers all year, though the waxing moon may still be a bit too bright for viewing it this year.

But the night of the solstice, and the next after will be the peak of the Ursid meteor shower which can best be seen around midnight near the Little Dipper. It is expected to have a decent showing this year if there is no cloud cover. This is because the moon will be new (or in its darkest phase) on the solstice – prime time for stargazing. Though there are some areas here on the peninsula with significant light pollution, you do not have to go very far to find a good view of the stars.

There will be a guided Winter Solstice stargazing hike that begins at 3pm at the Burton Island Nature Preserve on Indian River Bay in Delaware. Check our site for links to this event which requires registration. And, contact your local park for information about stargazing there.

Here at the Delmarva Almanac we wish you a warm and wonderful holiday season in all the ways that it is celebrated, and another year of pleasant living between our shorelines.


References:


Find out more about the Winter Solstice Stargazing Hike on Indian River Bay.

Want to learn more about astronomy? Check out the Delmarva Stargazers website: delmarvastargazers.org