What a year it has been. With so many cancelled events and reduced options for social activities for most of the year, my hope is that more people took time to get outside, especially at night so they could see the stars.
As crazy as the various events of 2020 have been, we are ending the year on a stellar note, astronomically speaking. So make plans to bundle up, make a hot drink, and get everyone in your home outside under the stars. You don’t want to miss this show!
WINTER SOLSTICE EVENTS
The Winter Solstice, which falls on December 21, has a couple of treats in store for us. In addition to being the first day of winter, it is also the day of the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. And to top it off, there will be a minor meteor shower.
Jupiter and Saturn cross paths about every 19.6 years, an event astronomers call a Great Conjunction. But sometimes they come so close together they look like they are touching. This is a rare occurrence, happening in intervals of hundreds of years. On this year’s Winter Solstice, you’ll be able to see the two gas giants through a telescope or binoculars at the same time!
Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime event. To get all the details, check out our article about the Great Conjunction.
THRIVING IN THE WINTER SEASON
The holiday season usually means we pack our calendars with parties and social engagements, dinners and holiday plays, and gift and cookie exchanges. For many, it is an exhilarating ride of festivities that often leaves them feeling exhausted.
But this way of living during the winter season is quite new in human history.
For thousands upon thousands of years, people across this planet lived in sync with the seasons. Their entire culture and way of life hinged on being in tune with the seasonal changes. Many cultures had skywatchers who served as priests, astrologers, and ritual guides to help the community stay in sync with nature’s clock. It was vital for them to know when to plant crops, when to expect rains, when to harvest, and when to celebrate festivals and rituals to honor the gods who kept it all going.
Winter was a season of slowing down. It was a time to connect more deeply with smaller family units and closer community relations. This increased intimacy and generosity with the people who mattered most. Summer’s adventures and explorations had passed and winter drew everyone into tighter circles.
When winter arrived, the natural simple carbohydrates of summer’s fruits and leafy greens vanished and diets shifted to include more root vegetables and dietary fat, mostly in the form of meat. For most of our ancestors, sweet foods were not a staple part of the winter diet.
Overall physical activity during these months also shifted. People stayed closer to home and experienced bursts of physical activity in the form of winter hunting. The Nordic people maintain a tradition to this day of cutting a hole in the ice of a lake or the Baltic Sea to take a quick winter swim, followed by a trip to the sauna.
Without the luxury of artificial light in their homes, our ancestors generally went to bed with the sun and rose with the sun. This meant longer hours of sleep during the winter months. This additional sleep helps the body and mind to heal and rejuvenate.
Seasonal living meant that our ancestors adjusted the way they socialized, ate, moved, and slept based on the seasons, with the winter season focused on drawing in and powering down.
DETACHED FROM THE PAST
Our ancestors could only dream of a lifestyle that could bypass the seasonal changes. Artificial lights allow us to not only defy nighttime in general, but also to defy the longer hours of nighttime in the winter so we can maintain the same schedule year-round.
They would have to use their imagination to contemplate what it would be like to eat grapes and fresh green salads every month of the year. I doubt they ever dreamed of gyms filled with equipment that allowed you to maintain a consistent exercise routine all year because they only knew what made sense to them seasonally.
ADOPT A WINTER MINDSET THIS YEAR
While it pains us to be discouraged from visiting relatives for the holidays or from hosting festive parties at home and in the community this year, perhaps we can take a more positive view of it. This may be the one year when we give ourselves permission to slow down during the winter months, to reconnect with our immediate family and closest friends, and to get into sync with the winter season.
Try adjusting your sleep schedule, if possible, to follow the seasonal light and dark more closely. Sit in front of a fire at night with the lights down low, go to bed early, and rise with the sun. This will allow your body and mind an extended period of time for deeper healing and recovery from our “always on” lives.
Rethink your winter diet by reducing the carbs of out-of-season fruits and leafy greens and switch to hearty stews, root vegetables, and cuts of meat to give your body a break from the overload of easy carbs and sweets.
If you are accustomed to long workouts, running, or biking long distances, consider switching up your routine to shorter workouts of high-intensity exercises. If you haven’t been in the habit of exercising, start with a 7-minute workout regime. There is a lot of fascinating scientific research on this method of exercise and you can find numerous apps to guide you.
And when it comes to relationships, take the winter to focus on building deeper relationships with your family and closest friends. Enjoy long conversations, have deeper discussions about the things that matter most, and find ways to show your love and appreciation.
Just because our ancestors put on the brakes in the winter doesn’t mean they sat around doing nothing. They still had children to amuse and care for, hunting to supplement their store of food, and homes to keep warm. But they also made time to celebrate the season.
From ancient times, each season featured festivals and rituals related to the placement of the sun in the sky. These were important for signaling the beginning of the planting or harvesting seasons and informed them how to live their daily lives.
Each culture held to its own mythologies and lore that gave them a sense of identity and instructed them how to live.
The “Winter Solstice Special” episode of the Night Sky Tourist podcast has some great tales of cultures around the world and how they celebrated the Winter Solstice. I invited my friends from the Fountain Hills Dark Sky Association to tell these stories and to share some of their favorite holiday traditions, which also vary widely. Be sure to check it out.
If the idea of developing a lifestyle that follows seasonal living interests you, I recommend the book The 4 Season Solution by Dallas Hartwig. I loved this book so much that I read it twice this year. The chapter titled “It Starts with Sleep” offers some important insights into the value of having a dark sleeping environment.
From the book:
One of the many major differences between the preindustrial societies the UCLA team studied and the sleeping habits of humans in modern societies is less about time in bed and more about the level and duration of darkness we experience before sleep. To initiate the high-quality, restorative sleep we all seem to be craving, darkness is crucial. But darkness is something many of us only get once we are in bed and attempting to fall asleep. Even then, given the prevalence of bright alarm clocks, LED lights from the various devices in our bedrooms, light pollution from external sources such as streetlights and vehicles, not to mention both the light and sounds emanating from phone notifications coming in at all hours of the night (“but my phone is my alarm clock”), our supposedly dark bedrooms are anything but.
Perhaps this winter, with lockdowns reinstated, events cancelled, and travel discouraged, we can sync up with the season in a “new old-fashioned way”.