Tag Archives: winter solstice

Season’s Greetings

So appropriate for a festival celebrating the return of the sun

It’s that time of year again – the frenetic holiday season where everybody runs around like a cut snake to celebrate… something. It’s no coincidence (as I’m sure you all know) that all the major religions have a festival that pretty well coincides with the Northern Hemisphere’s Winter Solstice. Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Saturnalia, Sinter Klaas, and many others. Basically, they celebrate the end of winter and the return of the sun and focus on light, food, and family and friends. So whatever your beliefs, enjoy the day however you celebrate.

Here in Australia, of course, we’re having the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, and although we don’t usually celebrate the height of summer, this year I think Peter and I won’t be the only ones breathing a sigh of relief. The whole world knows our entire continent has been drought-stricken for most of the year. The fuel load has built up in forests which have evolved to need fire to reproduce, and late spring and summer arrived with a fiery blast. Bush fires (far too often deliberately lit) have devastated communities in every state.

My heart goes out to those people who have lost everything – homes, pets, stock, their livelihoods – on the eve of the Christmas holidays. I have nothing but admiration for the fire fighters, many of them volunteers, who risk their lives to fight the flames. There have been deaths – to my mind, amazingly few. Let’s all hope it stays that way. Vast swathes of territory have been burned and are still burning. Only Gaia can put them out.

And at least there’s hope she’s listening.

The positive Indian Ocean Dipole is all but finished and the negative Southern Angular Mode is coming closer to neutral so we finally have a chance of normal rainfall patterns coming soon. The model below is for 31st December. Bring it on.

Copied from John’ Weather Channel on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/JohnsWeatherChannelJwc/photos/pcb.3296783437062633/3296783327062644/?type=3&theater

A large storm moved through our area overnight, bringing much-needed rain to parched areas. We’re happy for the 4mm in our rain gauge – and also happy to miss out on damaging winds and hail. In Australia it’s so often about extremes.

On a personal front, Pete and I came back home from a three-week trip to Vietnam and Cambodia about a week ago. As so often has been the case with us, we came home sick with probably a form of Asian flu. We’ve been to the doctor and things are finally starting to look up on the health front so I’ll be writing my thoughts about the journey. It was fascinating. A mix of modern history associated with the Vietnam war and the Killing Fields, and much older history with places like Angkor Wat, Hue’s Citadel, and Hoi An old city. We visited the incredible Ha Long Bay and drove over the mountains at Da Nang. And we visited villages to see how ordinary people live. It was rather like visiting a country undergoing an industrial revolution, with all the challenges associated with such a paradigm shift. Especially when you’re a privileged Westerner with all your prejudices and sensitivities. Some of our experiences at a very ordinary level were quite confronting.

I hope you’ll come along with me as I relive our journey. For now, wassail, bottoms up, cheers and all that. Merry Christmas.



The solstice is here.

Today, 22nd June 2019, is this year’s winter solstice here in the Southern Hemisphere. Our part of the Earth started moving North, back toward the Sun at 1:54am. In the UK, Europe, and the USA and Canada, it’s midsummer. The druids are arriving at Salisbury to watch the sun rise over the heel stone at Stonehenge and parties are gearing up everywhere. All these things are such a big deal in the North. The winter solstice is an even bigger deal, since it coincides with the blessed return of the sun. And Christmas, but that’s a later addition.

It’s not like that here in Australia. We celebrate the summer solstice because we have inherited the European traditions of Christmas but I’d bet that many Australians aren’t aware of the solstice, which is a few days before the 25th December. They just know it’s Summer holidays. Yay! The beach, presents, cricket!

Winter at Hervey Bay

Pelicans and people enjoying Winter at Hervey Bay

The winter solstice is even less of an event. But then, here in Hervey Bay sunrise was at 6:33, and sunset will be 17:07, giving us around ten and a half hours of daylight. That’s only three hours and nine minutes less than midsummer, so it’s not such a big deal. In comparison, London in midsummer gets sixteen hours and thirty-eight minutes of daylight. In winter, sunrise is at just after 8am, and sunset just before 4pm, around eight hours of daylight. And it’s usually cold and miserable all day. During June in Hervey Bay the maximum temperatures are usually in the low twenties – not a bad summer’s day in England.

Whatever the temperatures, going back not even one hundred years people needed to be interested in the change of the seasons. They needed to know when to plant crops, when particular food sources appeared, the patterns of animal behaviour and so on. All of them were astronomers, keeping an eye on the progression of the stars. And Australia has its own ‘Stonehenge’. Scientists have been investigating Wurdi Youang, large basalt rocks arranged in an egg shape, which can be used to observe the Summer and Winter solstices. The site could be as much as ten thousand years old, pre-dating Stonehenge. Here’s the story.

I remember the first time I went to Europe, to London and Amsterdam. It was November and especially coming from the bright, warm weatherof an Australian late Spring, arriving in the last throes of autumn was taxing. For a start it was cold, or, to put it another way, fucking freezing. Four degrees max? You’ve gotta be kidding me. For another, the sunlight was insipid when it was there, and it wasn’t there for long. The shadows were already lengthening at around 3pm and the sun was gone well before 5pm. After that was a long-drawn-out twilight. All that played havoc with my body clock. Twilight lasts for about five minutes in Australia. The sun goes down and that’s it, folks. Darkness is waiting in the wings to take the sun’s place.

So, although everywhere in the world gets a (roughly) twenty-four-hour day, and experiences two solstices and two equinoxes per annum, the experience isn’t the same everywhere. For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, have a wonderful midsummer celebration. We in the South will shrug our shoulders and carry on.