Tales from the Northern Forests
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
he will not see me stopping here
to see his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
to stop without a farmhouse near
between the woods and frozen lake
the darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
to ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
and miles to go before I sleep,
and miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost (1874-1963)
The day of the winter solstice is often called 'Midwinter', where winter doesn't refer so much to the wintery season but more to that part of the year when the nights in the Northern Forests are longer than the days. This begins after the autumn equinox in September, lasts one half of the year and ends at the spring equinox in March. The winter solstice i.e. Midwinter occurs exactly in the middle of that time of long nights and darkness, in December.
The solstice itself lasts only a moment when the North Pole is farthest away from the Sun due to the Earth's axial tilt and her position in her yearly orbit around the sun.
In a year Earth orbits around the Sun at an angle of 23.5°
i.e. the axial tilt.
This means that the night before the winter solstice is the longest night of the year in the Northern Forests. In the Forests of England that night is just over 16 hours long resulting in a day of less than 8 hours. But as the sun sets on Midwinter's Eve the tide of lengthening nights, which started after the summer solstice, has turned.
After Midwinter the days in the Northern Forests will slowly but surely, minute by minute, grow longer. So that finally at the spring equinox in March the day is just as long as the night and the season of darkness and winter ends.
© Brigitte Franssen 2011