Solar winter solstice is the day when the sun's power is at its weakest. The shortest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere is December 21 and in the south, of course, six months later in June. It's a time of celebration and reflection in many cultures.
Today, as I update this page, is equinox day in both hemispheres. On March 21, the day and night of equal length.
What is really a bit of an anachronism is that because of our long dry winter in South Africa, it's the period when our solar devices are most effective and we use the least utility power. I've just checked; 89kWh in 65 days, or about 40 per month; that's almost nothing; three dollars, or R40, plus the grid connection fee, of course.
We have needed electrical power only once to heat water for the showers in several months.
This week at notice board we talked about the winter solstice; that's the shortest day and the longest night of the year.
In the southern hemisphere that's in June, whilst our northern cousins are enjoying just the opposite a few days before Christmas.
As is appropriate, the first snows fell on the Drakensberg last Friday and the woodstove heating system
has been burning day and night; the beauty of it is that these new
designs require very little timber; every last bit is burnt to a fine
ash; most of that is spread around under the fruit trees, but a cup or two is reserved for each of the worm farms; they too prefer an alkaline medium.
The unexpected winter showers also meant that our reservoir is full; it paid off to invest in the best rainwater harvesting model.
Now we have enough water for our home and winter garden to last us through to the spring rains in August or perhaps September.
The downside is that solar power energy is at its bleakest; it's time to get the ladder out and clean both the vacuum tubes that heat our water and the photovoltaic panels that produce electricity. It takes about an hour.
Take care when going up and down ladders onto the roof; many have come a cropper.
For us here in the very deep south it means a garden loaded with green vegetables like kale, broccoli and spinach, and freshly harvested peas; most of them are enjoyed with our salads.
Yes, and of course there are several different types of lettuce. Organic green foods are the richest source of the two wonder carotenes called lutein and zeaxanthin; they are found in very high concentrations in the retina protecting our eyes against incoming damaging radiation. Eggs and yellow corn are good too.
For you in the far north it means enjoying the last of the winter squash, but having to depend on imported fruit and vegetables.
Hopefully year round you make your own low GI bread; it's one of the constants that we can do year round to improve our health. Use only the complete grains made from the entire seed; look out for 100% wholemeal; it's an excellent source of choline, a vitamin that Western man gets only half of the recommended daily allowance.
A whole grain consists of the endosperm from which white flour is made, bran which is the fibre and the germ which is where the precious oil, vitamins and minerals are found in the main.
To be called a whole grain, these should exist in the same ratio as in the seed, but millers cheat and the spurious rules allow them to call it wholemeal provided no more than 40% of the wheat has been removed; that's the bran and germ; that are sent for hog food. Lucky pigs get it all and we have to pay for it at the health store.
The only solution, if you bake your own bread, is an electric flour mill; if you use it daily even the Rolls Royce will pay for itself within two years; our Hawo is nearly twenty-five years and has worked with nary a hiccough.
Solar winter solstice is when some still dance around the apple trees, sipping their hot gluhwein in memory of a forgotten era.
It's also no coincidence that Christmas lies as close to the longest night as the ancients could place it; Jesus was actually born in April or May according to astronomers.
Christmas for most has become a pagan celebration, dancing around the fir tree, and eating and drinking like gluttons.
Rather let's be looking to forging family relationships rather than spending vast amounts of money on presents that are neither needed nor desired. One mindfully chosen gift is appreciated far more.
Remember too the lonely and lost; Christmas for so many is time of deep depression with families divided and lost.
It's a time too for real relaxation and perhaps a short holiday; most of us work far too hard and this is the time for a break from the daily grind, whilst thinking forward to what the new year will hold.
» Solar winter solstice
Bernard Preston is a retired chiropractor with a passion for the kingdom of heaven, and the legacy we'll leave our children on earth. He doesn't dance around the solar winter solstice apple tree, nor the yew or pine; rather he looks to family values and the cares of the lonely and lost.
One of our fundamental Christian duties must surely be to honour God's creation; but this is how mankind is doing it.
It's hard to know where to start, the problems are so complex, but wean off plastic is certainly one good place to begin.