The nano-moment of winter solstice falls due on the day of the planet’s extremest axial tilt. States lordly Wikipedia with unhumble certitude, “The winter solstice occurs exactly when the axial tilt of a planet's polar hemisphere is farthest away from the star that it orbits.” In this year of our lord 2012, winter solstice happens December 21 at 11:12 (UTC). That's Co-ordinated Universal Time to you, bubbeleh. As shown below, in the famous Flammarion woodcut, astrological wizards report that the sun enters 0° Capricorn to inaugurate the solstice.
Solstice is one of two times in the year when the sun is farthest from the equator and appears to stand still. The farthest northern point on the solar ecliptic is winter solstice; the farthest southern point is summer solstice. The word solstice derives from the deeply mistaken ancient belief that the sun could stand still. It cannot, without quite severe consequences, some of which I detail below.
Etymology of solstice
Solstice was borrowed early into English from French solstice < medieval Latin solsticium < classical Latin sōlstitium < Latin sōl ‘sun’ + -stitium suffixal form ‘a standing still’ > participial stem of the Latin verb sistĕre ‘to stand still,’ citational forms of the verb: sisto, sistere, stiti, statum, which is the reduplicated form of the simpler verb sto, stare, steti, statum. Together those verbs are the base of hundreds of English words such as assist, consistent, desist, exist, insistence, persist, status, stay, stet, subsist, substance, transistor and — my fave — to stand up against someone or something again and again: to resist.
In various compendia of religious thaumaturgical phenomena (translation: tall tales from the ancient Near East), the sun stands still. Notable in Christian fabledom is Joshua’s solar dictum in the Old Testament, Joshua, Chapter 10: (KJV) “Then spake Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said, in the sight of Israel, ‘Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.’ ” There follows the usual divine bloodletting, e.g. major-league smiting of goyim and assorted clobbering in which God obliterates all the enemies of the Jews.
Naturellement, no biblical mention is made of the catastrophic interplanetary consequences of our sun standing still, such as these never-happened-in-history disasters: First, the principle of the conservation of angular momentum of rotating bodies would apply to the abrupt halting of the earth. Consequently, for example, the entire Rocky Mountain cordillera would topple like a squishy Popsicle into the Pacific Ocean, creating thousands of mighty tidal waves per hour, which would sweep over earth’s continents drowning all of humanity, even rabbis and the president of the National Rifle Association. Oy! Mount Everest might end up lodged in the anus of an Islamic extremist. Multiple Allahu akbar(s) and sphincter repair surgery would prove of no avail. Winds of six hundred miles per hour would howl and blow and scrape the earth raw of all surface beings, buildings and structures. With everyone on Earth dead, some Sunday school classes would have to be cut way back.
Christmas mummers perform at solstice
copyright © William Gordon Casselman 2011
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