“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York….”
I’m reminded of those lines that Shakespeare put at the beginning of Richard III because now happens to be the time of the solsticio/solstice for 2012. Make that the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. The Spanish and English words come directly from Latin solstitium, whose first element is sol ‘the sun’ and whose second is the same that’s found in the Latin verb stare and its synonymous native English cognate stand. The solstice was the time, as perceived by those in the Northern Hemisphere (where the ancient Romans were), when the ‘sun stood [still],’ in other words when then the sun’s daily zenith stopped getting lower and was about to get higher again.
Because the seasons lag the sun by a couple of months, the winter solstice in Europe and other northerly places is still a harbinger of bleak and cold weather, gray skies, and little vegetation. Nevertheless, the gradual rising of the sun after the winter solstice gave people an expectation that eventually there would be more favorable times ahead, and various ancient peoples celebrated the event and the hope that came with it.
But back to language: corresponding to the noun solsticio/solstice we have the adjective solsticial/solstitial, which means ‘pertaining to or occurring at the time of the solstice.’ You can now impress your friends by telling them you’ve received your solstitial post for the winter of 2012.
© 2012 Steven Schwartzman