Betwixt solstice and perihelion

Late sunset over a loch on the west coast of Scotland

Funny how so many of us mark a (Gregorian) New Year as if it were something more than just its own anniversary! This year it fell just a little over 11 days after the solstice (21 December 2022 at 21:47), and just over three and a half days before the perihelion (4 January 2023 at 16:17 UTC).

Why neither of these is considered a more natural start to the year is a bit of a mystery to me. The solstices are observable natural phenomena, occurring when the Earth’s rotational axis is maximally inclined towards/away from the Sun. Ok, so there are two solstices every year, which makes picking one seem rather arbitrary, and at the very least discriminatory towards one of the Earth’s hemispheres.

The perihelion, another observable natural phenomenon, is the time when the Earth is closest to the Sun in its not-quite-circular orbit. While its opposite number, the aphelion, would also be a candidate for the start of a year, I like to think of the Earth as beginning the year close to its parent star, and venturing out into the cosmos a little before returning home.

I’m quite glad most people don’t celebrate the perihelion though. The barrage of fireworks that turned Edinburgh into an auditory simulation of a war zone for an hour or so after midnight on 1 January doesn’t seem fitting somehow. As our planet noiselessly and without fuss begins to move away from the Sun again in a few hours, I feel it’s preferable to ponder the workings of the celestial apparatus in respectful silence. After all, ‘In space, nobody can hear you scream.’