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Gazette editorial: Here comes the sun

Gazette editorial

Charleston Gazette-Mail

Just before noon today, an important yearly event will occur. Planet Earth will pass the point in its orbit where the Northern Hemisphere stops tipping farther away from the sun, the winter solstice. The darkest, coldest time will reach its worst, then slowly begin to brighten again.

Every schoolchild is taught the cause of summer and winter: Because Earth’s axis is tilted, the north leans toward the sun in summer, enjoying direct radiation as much as 15 hours a day. Conversely, in winter, when the planet is on the opposite side in its orbit, the north is tipped away from the sun, receiving less direct radiation, as little as nine hours a day.

The return-of-the-sun time, which begins today, looms large in human history. In prehistoric days, northern people watched the sun sink in autumn. They built large calendars to track the path and the beginning of longer, warmer days. The event triggered a festival period, with bonfires and cheery lamps to dispel the darkness. Many ancient cultures held sun god celebrations.

In the fourth century, the pagan sun holiday became Christmas. Pope Julius I set Dec. 25 for the nativity, the Catholic Encyclopedia says. Previously, the birth of Jesus had been observed at various other times of year. Ever since, Christian joy has been added to the age-old cheer brightening this murky period.

Today, in this electrical age, billions of sparkles fend off the night, lifting people’s spirits. Coonskin Park lights, the St. Albans Festival of Lights and many other government-sponsored spectacles gladden the heart. Also, thousands of homes, businesses and churches join in making a merry dazzle. Part of the holiday thrill is to load children in the car and view the twinkling panorama.

All those providing holiday lights give a friendly gift to passersby. They help nurture the magic of this enchanted season. Happy Winter Solstice.

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