The sun has got his hat on (however briefly)

As the sun pokes its head above the horizon for just 7 hours and 55 minutes today I started thinking about solstices, equinoxes, eclipses, and life inside the Arctic circle.

On 11 August 1999 I was standing outside in Southampton: the skies went dark, the birds stopped singing, and the crowds did go quiet as we saw a very-nearly total eclipse. I won’t see the next total eclipse visible from the UK (23 September 2090), but the next biggest partial is distinctly possible on 20 March 2015. There is also total solar eclipse in 2012, but that’s only visible from a very small part of the Southern hemisphere – maybe I’ll go and get a picture.

Longyearbyen, Svalbard

Longyearbyen, Svalbard

From a disappearance of the sun to the its permanence: earlier this year I was lucky enough to visit Longyearbyen, a small town famous for being the Northernmost and well inside the Arctic circle. At midnight I saw both the sun and the moon above the horizon, the light as bright as at any point in the 24 hours.

And so to solstices: what comes to mind? Pagan observance and Stonehenge? Or the conversion of a winter festival to the rather more mercenary Christmas?

Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, or Yule. Are our celebrations really just arbitrarily defined in order to appease as many people as possible – and does that mean that we’ve been politically corrected for longer than might have otherwise been thought?