Shortest day worth celebrating even if you're not pagan
NOT everyone will mark tonight's winter solstice sunset with a warm glass of mead, as many pagans hidden away in our hills and valleys may do.
But perhaps we should consider some kind of celebration, because on the shortest day of the year we have nothing but more sunlight ahead of us.
The sun rose this morning at 6.37am and goes down at 4.56pm - giving us a paltry 10 hours and 19 minutes of sunshine in our 24-hour day.
In one month, office workers will jump for joy when they can enjoy a post-5pm sunset again.
But compare that to December 21, with an abundant 14 hours of sun and the difference between each end of the year and its effect on our mood becomes apparent.
Doctors agree a moderate level of sun plays an important role in mood and physical health.
In places where the body cannot produce enough vitamin D because of poor winter sunlight, people need supplements to keep their bones healthy, while here we simply need to step out for an uncovered 10 minutes on a sunny day.
But for traditional people, winter solstice meant much more than a reminder to get sufficient quantities of a then unknown vitamin.
"It's part of the cycle of dark into light," said Southern Cross University's Dr Angela Coco who lectures on traditional religions. She said our psyche has parallels with the planting season.
The principle of "as above, so below" is at work, so whatever is happening in the cosmos is happening within the person, she said.
"When it's dark, we go inward, and as the light emerges we put those insights into practice, just like planting seeds."
Here in the Northern Rivers, the Lismore Lantern Parade has become our unofficial winter solstice celebration, and has much in common with the age-old solstice rituals.
Don't get your hopes up that it's the end of winter - even though the days get longer, the latter months of winter are the coldest as our hemisphere adjusts its climate to the changing impact of the sun.
- Today: Cloudy, scattered showers, with southerly winds and a max of 17
- Friday: Cloudy, isolated showers, max 15.
- Saturday: Partly cloudy, isolated showers. Light winds. Overnight temps between 6 and 9 with daytime max around 17.
- Sunday: Isolated showers, with a sunny afternoon. Light winds. Max 18. Light winds.
Why we miss the sun
- The sun, apart from keeping us warm, provides us with vitamin D
- Vitamin D plays a key role in bone health
- Vitamin D deficiency is common in those with osteoporosis.
- Vitamin D deficiency also causes rickets, a childhood bone disease leading to bow legs, common in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
- To maintain healthy vitamin D levels, get 10 minutes of direct sunlight on face and forearms at least four times a week.