Yuletide greetings

Since June the days have been getting shorter, tomorrow they’ll start getting longer again. Yippee. Let’s celebrate the ancient pagan festival of the Winter Solstice, Yule. You won’t see any noticeable difference in the morning light for a while though, by some quirk of astronomy sunrise actually gets a minute or so later. To our ancient ancestors, the sun appeared to be standing still, everyone waiting anxiously for the turning. The sun starts to rise earlier by 1st January, marking the end of Yule.

This year the Winter Solstice is accompanied by a full moon. Of course, strictly the sun will be at its lowest elevation in the sky at 22:23 precisely (even though it’ll be dark) and the peak full moon won’t occur until the 22nd December at 17:49 so the two events are not completely in sync but for all intents and purposes they coincide. The next time this will happen is in 2094.

In pagan times, it was thought the changing seasons were tracked by following the lunar cycle rather than the sun, upon which our modern calendar of 12 months is based. Full moons mark the start of these lunar months, which had names such as the Wolf Moon when the full moon occurred in January, the Flower Moon for May or the Harvest Moon for September. These names have been handed down through the generations and have crossed the Atlantic to the New World. Some years have 13 full moons, which makes one of them a Blue Moon. But that’s by the way. December’s full moon was called the Cold Moon.

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