by Neil Carleton

The celebration of the winter solstice with a fire is an ancient tradition that’s practised around the world. Fires have been lit for millennia at the December solstice to welcome the returning sun.

Astronomically, the winter solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. This week it occurred on Sunday, December 21st at 23:03 Universal Time Coordinated, or 6:03 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. As the northern hemisphere was tilted away from the sun’s rays, the sun appeared directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, a circle of latitude now at 23° 26′ 14.440″ below the equator.

Winter Solstice Diagram
The days get longer when the northern hemisphere begins to tilt back towards the sun after the winter solstice. Graphic: Wikimedia Commons the free media repository

On the day of the winter solstice the sun rose on this part of the planet close to 7:40 a.m. and set near 4:22 p.m. The actual length of our day was calculated at 8 hours 42 minutes and 50 seconds. As the northern hemisphere began its slow tilt back towards the sun, we gained a second on the 22nd., 6 on the 23rd, 11 on the 24th, and a whopping 16 seconds on Christmas day. By March 21st, our day length will be close to 12 hours 11 minutes, a gain of over 3 minutes from the day before.

For years Al Potvin in Almonte has been lighting a large brush pile on the night of December 21 and inviting the community to his property. The festivities begin around 6:00 p.m. and continue well into the night. The winter solstice fire at 32 Carss Street was well attended again this year. A steady stream of visitors walked under the stars along a candle-lit pathway towards the glow.

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Many arrivals greeted familiar faces around the fire, and others were introduced as new to town. Those with smiles included parents with children, grandparents, and couples holding hands. A big container with hot chocolate arrived with cups. Photo: courtesy Rick Scholes
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As some families left for home, other people arrived with friends and neighbours. As in previous years, it was a great drop-in event enjoyed by everyone. Photo: courtesy Rick Scholes
Each year the winter solstice fire in Almonte can be seen at a considerable distance. This image was captured from the shoulder of County Road 29. Photo: courtesy Ian Carleton
Each year the winter solstice fire in Almonte can be seen at a considerable distance. This image was captured from the shoulder of County Road 29. Photo: courtesy Ian Carleton