Friday, December 06, 2013

As the World Turns! The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer.

In late autumn, in the northern part of the world

Squirrels hide nuts, foxes grown thick fur coats,

And birds fly to warmer places.

And humans do their versions of the same thing.  Something is happening out there. Days grow ever shorter and skies grow darker. Cold settles to the ground and below ground. People shiver and bundle up. Crickets quit and animals resort to their burrows, even as humans long to resort to, well, resorts far to the south. Face it; it's the bleak midwinter.

From the astronomical point of view, the earth's revolution around the sun brings the northern hemisphere around to its turn to tilt away from the sun, weakening the sun's rays and turning things colder and darker. Long ago non-scientific people feared the dead of winter, afraid that some evil spirit of darkness might be destroying the sun, or at least hiding it. They tried to fool the dark by lighting bonfires or burning huge logs in their fireplaces, hanging apples on evergreen trees, hanging holly and mistletoe and pine branches inside, lighting lights, and offering gifts to the darkness, all in the hope that spring would come again.

And then suddenly, just a day past the winter solstice, things start to look up. Days begin to get longer, and that's a cause for celebration!

Forget Shakespeare's midsummer night's story for the moment. Wendy Ffeffer's The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice(Dutton, 2013) explains it all, from the science of seasons to the history of winter solstice celebrations from the Stone Age on. From the Druids' fir trees hung with candles and fruit to the Chinese solstice windows, the Incas' mountaintop ceremonial fires ignited by cotton heated by a reflective panel, to the Roman Saturnalia which combines gift-giving and New Year's Eve-style merrymaking, to the medieval Yule log, fruit-filled sweetmeats, and the twelve days of Christmas or the Swedish St. Lucia's headresses which combined evergreens with candles, humans have used the same symbols of life--heat, light, greenery that never fails, and celebrating with gifts, music, and fun that defy the dark. With its cozy retro paintings by illustrator Jesse Reisch, Ffeffer's book offers enlightenment about the traditional festivals of winter in our hemisphere, with an appendix which includes solar system diagrams, projects for the solstice, and directions for cooking up treats for the season.

A good summary of past and present winter solstice celebrations, this book will help thoughtful kids feel the connection with our ancestors when they deck the halls, bring in the evergreens, and light the night with window candles or LED bulbs by the billions. "'Tis the season" to celebrate. As School Library Journal says, Pfeffer uses an easy, comfortable tone for conveying the basic information, and the end pages will provide additional opportunities for would-be astronomers to explore the principles on their own."

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home