Brighter Days Ahead
Today is the winter solstice. The sun is at its lowest point in our Northern sky. Today will be the shortest day of the year and the night will be long and cold. But tomorrow begins the slow lengthening of days. And though we are not nearly through the coldest and snowiest months of of our West Michigan winter, we will soon be waking to brighter mornings.
In our modern world, the winter solstice has lost much of the significance it once held. Over history this day has led to strange and curious celebrations going as far back as neolithic times. The lengthening days were a sign of the coming growing season, an important marker of how much food needed to be stored away to make it through the rest of the cold season.
With a limited knowledge of astronomy and a great reliance on growing food for survival, ancient people gave great significance to this turning point in the year. Today, an animated Youtube video can quickly explain the solstices, and most of us do not have to worry about whether our food stores will last through the winter. Because of this, the solstice loses much of it’s excitement.
But for for many plants and animals the the increasing amount of daylight sends important signals for things like flower growth, hibernation, mating, and migration. This physiological reaction to the amount of daylight is called photoperiodism. The trees may be bare and brown but they will sense the change in daylight hours and will begin to prepare for spring long before it arrives. Animals will sense the changes too and begin their preparations, whether it is chemical changes that determine how much longer to hibernate or behavioral changes that help them survive the cold winter.
So as you close out 2016, remember that your days are becoming brighter and warmer and spring even in the cold of January and February you can look around and know that the world is preparing for spring.