All Hail the Returning Sun!

You might not know it with the cold, gray weather of late, but this week we pass the midpoint of winter, with February 5 marking the first of the year’s four cross-quarter days.

January 1 of the Julian calendar marks the new year for us in the modern western world. However, our long-distant ancestors had no such construct, instead looking to the changes in the heavens and here on earth to delineate the seasons and to break up their year. And for many of those peoples, February 2, midway between winter solstice and vernal equinox, marked the new year and the beginning of the return of both light and life to the land. In parts of the world above the Arctic Circle, this was literal, as midwinter is when the sun first reappears after the months-long polar winter.

These days, we look to the groundhog to predict whether spring will come early or whether we will suffer winter for another six weeks — by no coincidence the length between a cross-quarter day and solstice or equinox. But whether the furry fellow sees his shadow or not, signs of rebirth abound. Look to the trees, where the sap is again flowing and where buds are now emerging. Dig beneath the soil, and you’ll find worms, insects even mammals stirring and returning to their instinctual duties. Watch the rising and setting sun, and witness the quickening, the fast-growing return of light.

While the light of our days has been inching forward since solstice, February 2 marks a tipping point when the pace of the returning sun accelerates rapidly leading up to equinox. Since solstice six weeks ago when the sun rose at 7:21, we have gained a mere 10 minutes of morning daylight; in the coming six weeks we will gain nearly one hour. Sunset comes more than 40 minutes later than it did at solstice, but between now and equinox we will gain almost a full hour of sunlight in the early evening. 

So take heart, and bask in the rays of the returning sun.