Today is the first day of winter, more formally dubbed The Winter Solstice ( in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway.) Winter arrives at 11:38 pm. This year's Winter Solstice is an unusually big day because during the wee hours of the morning there was a lunar eclipse which has not coincided with the coming of the winter solstice since the year 1638. Evidently in this part of the city we actually could see the progression of the eclipse last night, because the clouds broke long enough to view it. I like all these moon happenings, but I could not stay up until 2:30 a.m. However, I am starting this day with a blog post because I respect what a big day it is, and the "number thing" is kind of neat: that we have not had the lunar eclipse/winter solstice coincidence in 372 years. That's a big number. It is a special moment.
And it is a happy day. I am thinking of my friend Bethann who loves this day because now the days are getting longer. It is her favorite day of the year. I remember when Joey was a little boy, he especially liked the gentle Maurice Sendak cartoon called "Little Bear," which was on Nickelodeon. It was Little Bear's family's favorite day, too, when they would feed the wildlife and eat cookies.
In our family on this first day of winter, I will feed my wildlife with crock pot veggie stew and Christmas cookies (I'd better get busy.). Also in our family, ironically we are already thinking about summer vacation, when we enjoy lots of daylight with even more important stuff to accomplish. Winter is a sleepy time (well, at least for adults.) The sun sets so early and it feels like we should go to sleep and rest up, well, for Summer Solstice.
My happiest Summer Solstices occured when we would be at Yerkey’s Cabins on Lake Chautauqua. Our vacation week normally included that June 21 date. We vacationed with our two other families with children of similar ages. During that week, our children would wear themselves out, enjoying running, playing, roasting marshmallows, and casting their fishing lines into the water late into the evening from the end of the dock. There was barely enough light to bait their hooks, but they could still see their bobbers atop the water which was lit pink from the reflected light of the set sun. The Miller Clock Tower would ring the three-quarter hour tones, which meant it was 9:45 pm! When our children were little, this prolonged daylight made it feel very exciting because normally they were not allowed to stay up so late. It was hard to say goodnight to another day; every minute was special. There were only seven vacation nights a year.
I remember waiting for Joe and Jim to come back from an evening fishing trip, watching for their boat to appear as a small silhouette against a dark peach sky. Even today I can hear the children's little excited exclamations: "There's Daddy! Here he comes! I see him and cousin Jim! Did they catch a walleye?"
Once the men tied their boat off and lugged in their equipment, we would all don sweaters and hoodies and sit around the fire a little longer, listening to their fishing tales. Then the littlest child's yawns grew louder, and we knew it was time to find our way back to the cabin in the dark; when we got there we marveled at how much we smelled like smoke from the campfire.
Back then the children in the camp would enact campfire dramas at the end of the week. This was a very important tradition because they would rehearse all week, casting the parts and blocking the movement during the day, then making paper invitations to other members of the camp to "Come to Our Play" on the Friday night of our stay. The story of the wide-mouthed frog was their favorite production. The play's finale was Tommy Avery, a friend from Michigan, jumping into the lake for dramatic effect. There was another poetic play about immigrants and forks and knives that I spottily recall, but the frog presentation was the best. It even won souvenirs and parting gifts from some of the camp's visitors, they enjoyed it so much.
The next similar total eclipses of the moon visible from Pittsburgh will occur April 15 and Oct. 8, 2014. (There is actually one Dec. 10, 2011, but we will not be able to view it because the moon will set just before the first dark portion of Earth's shadow touches the disk.)
But this morning's notable coincidence won't happen again until 2094. Most of us will be gone from the earth by then and we will be watching this from somewhere other than the Northern Hemisphere. Isn't it remarkable and wonderful that we celebrate Christ's coming within a few days of the shortest day of the year? We don't have to wait hundreds of years: Christ comes in the darkness. His light gives us hope every day.