Today is the Winter Solstice – the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Traditionally, this day of longest darkness and shortest light is a time to pause and reflect. It’s a time to think about what has passed and what is yet to come.
The darkest days of the year are behind us now. After today, the days will gradually grow longer again. The sun will linger a bit longer in the sky, eventually bringing renewal and regeneration as winter wanes and spring returns. This year in particular – a year when so many of us have experienced myriad types of darkness and loss – this reflective pause is especially poignant.
This year’s Winter Solstice also brings with it a rather uncommon occurrence. The planets Jupiter and Saturn align from our perspective every 20 years, but it’s been almost 800 years since they’ve been as close together as they’ll be tonight. When you look up into the sky this evening, you’ll see what appears to be a double-planet star sometimes known as the “Christmas Star,” or the “Star of Bethlehem.” The light of Jupiter and Saturn will create a brilliantly bright effect that might recall the star from the nativity story in the Gospel of Matthew – the star of wonder that guided the three Wise Men to the newborn Jesus in Bethlehem.
The star that appeared on the night of the nativity story might have been the same star we’ll see tonight, or it might have been a rarer triple planetary conjunction of Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter. Either way, tonight’s planetary alignment – or “Solstice Star” – will be something special to behold. For those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, the best time to see this phenomenon will be about 45 minutes after sunset tonight. When that time comes, walk outside and gaze into the southwestern sky. For best results, carry a warm cup of mulled wine or hot cocoa outside with you and stand in silence and just take in the quiet, peaceful wonder of the season.
Percy Bysshe Shelley closed his 1820 poem “Ode to the West Wind” by asking “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” The Winter Solstice is a day of endings and beginnings and transitions. But most of all, it’s a day of hope. And that’s something we should all appreciate and celebrate as Christmas approaches and 2020 draws to a close.