Okay: NOW it's winter; solstice arrives at 12:47 p.m.
It may have looked like winter to you for several days. But officially, if you buy the tradition, winter arrived today - Monday, Dec. 21 - at 12:47 p.m. - with the winter solstice.
The winter solstice is the moment when the "sun stands still" - from the Latin "sol" and "stistere." That is, it's the time when the sun stops its apparent drift southward in the sky, and begins to rise and set a bit farther north each day, headed toward spring and the summer solstice in June.
In fact, the solstice occurs at the moment in the Earth's annual orbit around the sun, when the Northern Hemisphere reaches its maximum tilt away from the sun - 23 degrees, 26 minutes from the perpendicular. At the same moment, the Southern Hemisphere is enjoying its Summer Solstice, its longest day and the start of the southern summer.
In many cultures, the winter solstice was celebrated as mid-winter, not the beginning. And it made sense. Today is the day with the shortest period of daylight. From here, the days get longer, and brighter. We have already passed the date of the earliest sunset (Dec. 7), and on Jan. 4 we will note the latest sunrise. But from this moment, on balance, the days are getting longer. It's all good from here.
So cheer up and shovel.
(AP PHOTO/Chris Young - English Druids celebrate the 2005 winter solstice at Stonehenge)