Solstice Sunset

Powhatan Creek at sunset on Winter Solstice.


Today we celebrate the Winter Solstice, that time of year when days are short and nights are long.  Our day in Williamsburg, Virginia, began at 7:17 AM with sunrise, and ended at 4:53 PM as the sun set.  Our day was nine hours and 36 minutes long today.

But, as I look at a table of sunrise and sunset times, I notice that yesterday, and everyday since last Sunday, has been exactly the same length.  The difference is that the sunrise was a minute or two later, but so was the sunset!  In fact,  our earliest sunset of the year, at 4:49 PM, occurred on December 2 this year.  The sun has been setting a minute or two later each day since the 12th, when sunset occurred at 4:50 PM.



Sunrise continues to come a bit later each day.  Today the sun rose at 7:17, but by Saturday it will rise at 7:18, and on Christmas Monday it  won’t appear until 7:19 AM.  The sun will continue rising a bit later each morning until December 31,  when it rises at 7:21 AM.

It isn’t until the 13th of January that the rising sun reverses itself and comes up a minute earlier, at 7:20.  By January 13, the day will have grown to nine hours and 50 minutes, as the sun is setting at 4:50 once again.



Each day between now, and December 27, will continue on at exactly nine hours and 36 minutes.  That means that we will have a run of 11 days of ‘the shortest day of the year,’ of only nine hours and 36 minutes of daylight.  As the sun sets a minute later, so the sun also rises a minute later, in perfect choreography, until December 28, when the day grows by a minute to nine hours and 37 minutes at last.  On New Year’s Day, our daylight will have grown to nine hours and 38 minutes, with sunrise at seven 21 and sunset at 4:59.

Perhaps this very long run of short days and worsening weather is why we need the brightness of the  holidays to cheer our souls and help us through this extended period of darkness.  I feel grateful for every light display I see along the way, as darkness gathers in late afternoon, and the wind bites with cold.



I relish these early evenings, too.  Watching the sky turn bright with sunset color, and seeing our beautiful trees silhouetted against the deepening sky is a breathtakingly beautiful way to end our day.  Except it isn’t the end of the day, is it?

The early sunset may send us indoors, but we enjoy the long, quiet winter evenings together.  We may hear the owls calling to one another in the ravine.  I make tea, fix snacks, and work on holiday chores.   I paint and sculpt, read and crochet.  It may be long past midnight before I give up the day for sleep, knowing that morning will dawn quite late on the morrow!



We are in the darkest part of the year: Yule.  And that has been amplified this week with the new moon on Monday.  Settling comfortably into darkness, we gather with friends and loved ones, forming our intentions and making our wishes in anticipation of the year’s turning and return of longer days of sunlight.

Some light a Yule log and keep it burning until the days grow longer once again.  Some light candles to warm winter’s long nights, or light lamps.  Here, we string Christmas lights and enjoy their nightly glow.  We keep them up and burning deep into January, when we can feel the year has turned and days have grown longer once again.



Tonight, we went out to watch the Solstice sunset.  We left soon after four, camera in hand, and enjoyed a beautiful late afternoon drive on the Colonial Parkway.  We were driving west towards Jamestown, and the sun was brightly blazing even as it dipped towards the horizon before us.  I had to wear my shades and still shield my eyes against its intensity.

We may have made a detour…. there may have been mint ice cream involved…



Suffice it to say, we were running a bit close when we headed back to the Parkway to photograph the setting sun.  Seconds count, and that fiery orb had already dipped below the James River before we were in position.  But the sky was still ablaze, and the new moon hanging in a pristine sky, growing brighter with each passing minute.

Winter Solstice is one of my favorite days of the year.  We have celebrated this day since my own little one was tiny, with special food, and gifts, and music and merry-making.  It marks the passage from weeks of preparation to conscious celebration of the waning of one year and fresh beginnings of the next.  I envy friends born on this special day, and always keep it as the beginning of our Christmas celebrations.



My mind turns to The Holly King of legend, who shines brightly in our barren, wintery woods.  Aglow in bright red berries, hollies shine through mist and snow and gloomy winter days.  Winter is their prime time, when the oaks and other hardwoods have gone dormant and dropped their leaves.

I wish you a happy Solstice and a Merry Yule.



These are special days, and I hope you keep them well.  With love shining brightly in our hearts, we journey through these last days of 2017 and find our way into a new solar year.  May peace and happiness journey with you, and may 2018 offer you fresh possibilities, new opportunities and abundant joy.

Woodland Gnome 2017


The James River

About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

6 responses to “Solstice Sunset

  1. A lovely tribute to a beautiful day.

  2. Beautiful photos!
    I noticed the same many years ago, that we have about 10 ‘shortest’ days, as the sunrise and sunset shift in tandem resulting in the same daylength. Eventually it turns. 🙂
    Happy Yule to you!

  3. Farrokh namazi

    Thankyou for bringing so much joy and light into our lives with your blog. May you continue to shine in all the years to come, enriching us with all your talents. Yalda mubarak.

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