December 22, 2009

First day of winter – Hong Kong

Many of us in the Northern Hemisphere have yesterday, December 21, listed as the first day of winter. But the idea of “the first day of winter” is a human invention. We could choose just about any day as the first of winter.

The solstice (which occurred yesterday) is based on nature – yesterday was, in fact, the longest day / shortest night for people in the S
outhern Hemisphere and the shortest day / longest night in the Northern Hemisphere. That's nothing to do with humans and their calendars—it's to do with the tilt of Earth's axis and how that works to make colder and warmer seasons. How we actually divvy up the year into the seasons, however, depends on human ideas and rules and traditions.

In America and much of the rest of the world, the first day of winter is the winter solstice, even though that means that as soon as we reach winter, the days begin to get longer and longer and the sunlight more and more direct. In these countries, most of December is fall, not winter, and most of March is winter, not spring. Also, in America and all those other countries that have the first day of winter hooked to a natural event, it occurs on different days in different years: the solstice can occur any time between the 20th and the 23rd of December.

Some people think that solstice should be a mid-season celebration. According to that concept, December 21 would be the halfway-mark of winter (for the Northern Hemisphere).

Apparently, Australia organizes its calendar differently yet, aside from the fact that it is a Southern-Hemisphere country that has seasons opposite of Northern countries. In Australia the first day of winter is the first of the month in which the winter solstice occurs (so therefore June 1) and the first day of summer is the first of the month in which the summer solstice occurs (December 1) Australians can count their seasons by whole months while much of the world has to deal with fractions of months.

For some reason, Hong Kong apparently has its first day of winter one day after much of the rest of the world: today!

Why do we always privilege what's happening in the Northern Hemisphere?

If you could slice the earth in half along the equator, by definition the two pieces would be exactly the same size. However, they would be really unequal in both land and people! Although the Southern Hemisphere includes much of South America, part of Africa, and all of Antarctica and Australia, the southern half of the earth only has half as much land as the northern half. Because Antarctica is barely settled by humans (there are a few scientific outposts), the population comparison is even more drastic: only 10 to 20% of the world's population lives in the Southern Hemisphere.

Why is the earth "north-heavy"? It is just an accident of timing. Because the earth's continents drift about (in a process called plate tectonics), there have been
times in the past when the Southern Hemisphere had more land. At one time, almost 100% of the land on earth was in one huge super-continent that happened to be south of the equator. Now two thirds of earth's dry land just happens to be north of the equator.


If there is snow where you live, you may already be sick of shoveling it. Lots of kids who live in snow have fun making snow people, tunnels, forts, snowball fights, and so forth. But even those of us who DON'T live where it snows can enjoy making snow pictures.

How about torn-paper pictures?
The idea here is to tear regular white paper into fluffy little pieces that can fall down a bright blue construction paper sky and pile up in drifts and create snowmen and so forth.

Sponge painting.

Cut a corner off of a sponge and use it to dab white paint onto a darker background. Be sure to pat the sponge a few times on the edge of the palette or on a piece of scrap paper so that it isn't too thick on the sponge—you want a feathery feel for your snowy landscapes.

Collage. Cut up white feathers or pull apart cotton balls to make faux snow that you can glue to a picture.

Kirigami. Of course you already know how to fold paper to cut snowflakes, right?

Winter Fun
Try some of these fun activities.

Word Puzzle
There are at least 18 words on this banner. How many can you find? (Find little and big words within the long string of letters. A word can start and stop anywhere, but don't skip any letters, and don't rearrange the letters. (Answers below.)


1.HO 2.HOLIDAY 3.LID 4.I 5.ID 6.DAY 7.A 8.YOU 9.YOUTH 10.OUT 11.THE 12.THEN 13.HE 14.HEN 15.ENJOY 16.JOY 17.JOYFUL 18.FULL

1 comment:

  1. I loved the sliced hemispheres. I really like that kind of visual info, probably because I can't visual that sort of thing myself.