While the city is aglow with Christmas lights and holiday cheer, the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department will celebrate the shortest day of the year with the Winter Solstice Lantern Parade and Celebration.
Handmade electric lanterns will light up at sunset Thursday, Dec. 21, starting a parade from the red schoolhouse through Riverfront Park to the brick amphitheater, where hot cocoa and a warm fire await revelers.
And it’s not too late to make a lantern and join the parade.
“Our inspiration came from North Carolina neighbors on the Eno River in Hillsborough,” says Karen Swank Kustafik, assistant superintendent for Columbia Parks and Recreation. She suggests going to www.hillsboroughartscouncil.org/lantern-walk for instructions on making lanterns.
“We want everyone to bring a lantern with battery-operated lights – no candles,” Kustafik says. “The stick-and-paper lanterns take a couple of hours to build and cover but are fairly easy to construct and make a great friends-and-family project.”
Tea lights will illuminate a small lantern, she says, and flashlights and fairy lights work for larger lanterns. Remember to build in a hook for hanging lights and to suspend the lantern from a pole. Extra poles will be available at the schoolhouse.
“Everyone can put something together for this,” Kustafik says. “Even last-minute cylindrical lanterns made from (paper) will work. The heavier the paper, the better. This is something you could conceivably do with office supplies and coworkers.”
So there will be a nice stroll along a scenic spot, hot chocolate and lights. But what exactly is the winter solstice, aside from being the shortest day of the year and the moment when the days start getting longer again?
Here are some things to know about the winter solstice, compliments of www.timeanddate.com.
1. This year’s Winter Solstice is on Dec. 21, but the day actually varies from year to year. The December solstice can happen on Dec. 20, 21, 22 or 23, though Dec. 20 or 23 solstices are rare. The last Dec. 23 solstice was in 1903 and will not happen again until 2303.
2. Actually, the winter solstice is a moment, not a day. Most people consider the whole day the December solstice, but it’s actually when the sun is exactly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn. In Columbia, that will be at 11:28 a.m.
3. While the winter solstice may have the fewest daylight hours, it’s not the earliest sunset, or the latest sunrise. The earliest sunset was 5:14 p.m., starting Nov. 30 and ending Dec. 8. The latest sunrise will be 7:30 a.m. Jan. 4-10.
4. So yes, Dec. 21 will be the shortest day of this solstice year, with 9 hours, 53 minutes, 21 seconds of daylight. But only by a moment. Dec. 22 will be a second longer. Christmas Day will be 10 seconds longer. New Year’s Eve, 29 seconds longer.
5. The days will now get longer, until the summer solstice on June 21 (at 6:07 a.m. in Columbia), when the sun is directly above the Tropic of Cancer. On that day, there will be 14 hours, 25 minutes, 14 seconds of daylight.
6. The term solstice comes from the Latin word “solstitium” meaning “the sun stands still.” On the solstice, the sun reaches its southernmost position as seen from the Earth. The sun seems to stand still at the Tropic of Capricorn, then reverses its direction. It’s also common to call it the day the Sun turns around.
7. It’s the first official day of winter, according to astronomers and scientists. Meteorologists consider Dec. 1 the start of winter.
If you go
WHEN: Thursday, Dec. 21. Meet at 5 p.m.; march at sunset, 5:19 p.m.
WHERE: Riverfront Park, 312 Laurel St.
WORTH NOTING: Everyone is welcome to bring a lantern, but they must be battery operated. No candles will be permitted.
INFO: (803) 545-3100.