This blog is about the story of my family here in America. We arrived in the 1630s as Puritans, and became the common folk of the New World.

The Winter Solstice in the days of my ancestors

I used to sit around with my good friend Miguel, and we would kid each other about what our ancestors were doing a thousand years ago. He described his ancestors, from Central and South America, as building great civilizations, and watching the movement of the stars very carefully, and creating calendars. Mine, of course, being from northern Europe, were just kind of slogging around in the mud.

And every Winter Solstice I think about my ancestors, who lived without a written language, or a calendar, and who saw the sun get lower and lower in the sky every year at this time, and the terrible cold getting more and more terrible. It must have been a time of despair.

Of course now we know that after December 21st that the earth begins to tilt back, and the sun starts to rise and set higher in the sky. But my ancestors couldn't have known. They lived on the part of the planet where the sun was already low in the sky, and as the days got shorter and shorter, it must have been a sad time, indeed. I imagine them seeing the days getting darker and colder, and wondering if the sun was just going to disappear forever.

My ancestors built fires, they lit candles, they gathered together. They listened to the elders, who had seen this before, and looked for comfort that it would soon pass, and that the sun would return.

Several days after the Winter Soltice, allowing for a cloudy day or two, the shadows at midday would be seen to have definitely shortened, and the sun would be rising a little higher in the southern sky every day. It would still be cold, and dark, for a long time, but at least there was hope. And my ancestors had the biggest celebration of the year.
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