Why do the nights seem longer before the shortest day?
It's the 15th December 2013.
It is getting dark earlier and the shortest day seems like a day of redemption when the darkness of Winter reaches it's summit and is the beginning of a brighter future!
But if you check the sunrise and sunset tables you will find that the sun is already setting later each evening. The sun sets in the northern hemisphere later tonight by a few seconds than it did last night.
Today is the 15th be of good cheer for today the sun sets at 17:04 rather than 17:03 and to us Christmas pagans this is the first sign that the dark spirits are in decline. This is when we start to rejoice as the dark days are finally coming to an end.
So the 15th December is indeed a time for us to celebrate and raise a glass to the lord of the light wishing him welcome at sunset. In Medieval times the new calendar day always started at sunset.
I don’t mean to trash the religious and spiritual meaning of Christmas because it has an important influence on us that should be understood, but most of the stuff you hear about Christmas is to placate the children and the gullible. I have no desire to spoil the fun for them but the celebration is old, full of meaning and astronomically a fantastic time of year.
Did you know that the sunset gets later each night well before the winter solstice?
By the 21st December or the shortest day the sunset has become later by about a minute each night.
In Northern Europe the sunset is nearly 4 minutes later than it was on December 15th.
This is because the time of sunset varies throughout the year, and is determined by where on earth you are timing.
It comes down to your position on the Earth, and can be determined by your longitude, latitude, and elevation.
There are other factors that make tiny daily changes and more noticeable semi-annual changes in the timing of sunsets and taken together these can determine precise tables of future day length times.
During winter and spring, the days get longer and sunsets occur later every day until the day of the latest sunset, which occurs after the summer solstice.
The earliest sunset does not occur on the winter solstice, but rather about two weeks earlier, again depending on the viewer's latitude.
In the Northern Hemisphere, it occurs in early December or late November (influenced by the Earth's faster movement as it gets closer to the sun which occurs around January 3).
The same thing happens in the Southern Hemisphere, but with the reverse dates.
The earliest sunsets occurring some time before June 21 in winter,and latest sunsets occurring some time after December 21 in summer.
The events of the days lengthening takes about a month to complete and with a little research it is easy to find corresponding celebrations in both religious and pagan societies.
The observances of these are still celebrated with Christmas, New years eve and 12th night for example.
An Astronomical Christmas Guide
But the idea of wearing a crown and becoming a king for the night ,or wassailing are deeply embedded in these astronomical event.
What is a Wassail?
How to make Wassail Punch
And if the Mayan Calendar is right on the 21st of December 2012 the world will end due to a planetary alignment or something like that.
While the the alignment is a fact we will probably still have a planet on the 22nd December but is poinint that this event occurs at a time when people have always considered this time of year as a spiritual event.