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There’s Nowhere to Go but Up

The days have been getting shorter and shorter for months. This is where it ends.

Dark winter night
Ian Livesey, Flickr

Today is Monday, December 21, 2020, the shortest day and longest night we’ll see for another year.  

In Brooklyn today, the sun will set at 4:32 p.m. In Los Angeles, where I live, we’ll get a few extra minutes—the sun here will set at 4:48 p.m. Over in Michigan, my parents will get a positively luxurious sunset time of 5:08 p.m. For folks up in Anchorage, Alaska, the sun will set in the middle of the dang afternoon at 3:42 p.m. And for anyone north of the Arctic Circle, there will be no sunset because the sun never rose at all

We finally made it to this black hole of a day. For months now I’ve been dreading it. For months now people have been tweeting about it. 

And now, finally, it’s here. This morning at exactly 5:02 a.m. EST the North Pole was tilted as far from the sun as it can possibly get barring an enormous cosmic event, and the Northern Hemisphere experienced its winter solstice. (Congrats by the way to everyone in Australia experiencing their longest day of the year today. Enjoy it while it lasts!!)

This happens every single year of course, it’s literally the way the world works. But we tend to forget just how dramatic it can feel when the light starts to fade as summer stretches into autumn. That already terrible experience feels worse than ever in 2020. This year we’re stuck inside, everything is a mess, we’re isolated, we’re freaked out, and we’re constricted in almost every way. We’re not only stuck inside all the time, it’s also pitch dark at 5 p.m. Wooooo!

For me, my slivers of time outdoors have been one of the few things that have kept me sane this year. I’m incredibly lucky to live in a warm and sunny place, but even I have felt my panic rising as the days have shortened this year. For the last few weeks my Monday to Friday rhythm has been: Wake up, work, oh hey it’s night time. The sun? Who is she? I feel like I barely know her anymore. 

Aside from the crucial lack of outdoor time and vitamin D, this year also feels pointedly worse because we’re missing out on all the seasonal comforts that make the colder temperatures and lack of sunlight more bearable: parties, cozy bar nights, family, and a host of other things that serve as simple distractions if nothing else. Right now, it’s us and our households and the fading light. There’s still some peace to be found, I suppose, in the natural slowdown of the year and the hope that pandemic relief is on the horizon. But the short days really can feel oh-so-long when you have nothing to do but wait. 

And so today I’m quietly cheering knowing that we are at the bottom of the barrel with the seasonal darkness. It most certainly won’t be the coldest day, and uh, it isn’t actually the day with the earliest sunset (I am so, so sorry), and it actually marks the BEGINNING of winter (astronomically speaking), but it is the shortest day. So yes, in some ways it will get worse, but in this one way, there’s truly nowhere to go but up. Also the sunsets are better in winter, so there’s that. 

If the summer solstice was any indication, winter solstice parties worldwide will probably be a little muted this year, which makes sense. But if you’re celebrating Christmas in any way, you’re already engaging in some winter solstice celebrations and if not, there are plenty of ways to take part, most of which involve drinking and feasting.

Personally, I plan to crawl in bed and settle in for a long winter’s nap. The winter solstice is historically associated with the idea of rebirth. Maybe if I doze hard enough, I’ll wake up in a world where that feels true.