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Winter Solstice: Turtle Island Hunkers Down for the Longest Night

The winter solstice occurs at 11:48 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on December 21 on Turtle Island, while the rest of the world gets it on December 22.
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Storytelling season. Holidays. Darkness giving way to light.

From the ancient to the modern, one thing stays the same: the waning and returning of the light. Tonight marks the moment in 2015 when we are most attuned to the interplay of darkness and light, as we hunker down for the longest night of the year. When we awake on Tuesday December 22 it will be winter here on Turtle Island.

Precisely at 11:48 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, 12 minutes before midnight, Mother Earth’s Northern Hemisphere will be tilted the farthest it ever gets from the sun for the year. And then it will stay there.

“After the sun reaches its southernmost point on the sky’s dome on the December solstice, watch as the sun seems to pause for a number of days before it starts its northward trajectory on the sky’s dome once again,” says Earthsky.org.

“The sun's arc across the sky has been steadily dropping lower and becoming shorter since June,” notes National Geographicin a story giving the lowdown on winter solstices around the world and through the ages. “Now, at the north's winter solstice, it has reached its lowest possible arc—so low in fact that in the few days surrounding the solstice it appears to rise and set in the same place. That phenomenon produced the Latin phrasing from which the word solstice was derived, meaning ‘sun stands still.’ ”

In many American Indian cultures, of course, this begins the season of storytelling. It’s not only a way to pass the long winter nights but is also an appropriate time to talk about the heavenly bodies and other beings—when they are asleep, ethnobotanist Arnold Clifford told Indian Country Today Media Network in a previous interview.

RELATED: Winter Solstice Signals Start of Storytelling Season

It’s the “unofficial” start of winter because “winter and summer start at the solstices by tradition, not official decree,” says Earthsky.org.

Official or unofficial, it is both the start of the cold darkness and of new beginnings, as the spiritual center the Turtle Lodge, on Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, Canada, notes in its invite to this year’s annual solstice ceremony. The festivities begin on the evening of December 21, and celebrants will spend the night in the sweat lodge in ceremony. The next morning there is a potluck feast.

RELATED: Winter Solstice: Welcoming the Return of the Light Across Turtle Island

The night will also honor the Manito-Debiki Giizoons (Little Spirit Moon) Full Moon, which occurs on Christmas—the first time there has been a full moon on Christmas since 1977.

“Traditionally the Original People have always gone into ceremony to celebrate what is considered the longest night—the Winter Solstice,” says Turtle Lodge on its website. “The Winter Solstice gives birth to the New Sun through the longest night of the year. It is during that longest night that we honor our way of life. We follow the New Sun across the sky as it watches over us. It is a time when we would honor our ancestors and what they have left for us. The turtle leaves us a trail to follow, and we are all given a chance to walk that trail. The Winter Solstice is a time when we honor the Trail of the Turtle.”