Solstice 2014: Let the Celebrations Begin!

At this time of year, everyone is patiently awaiting the Christmas and New Year’s Holiday – for whatever that means; time off work, family parties, travel, or just some stress-free relaxation.

But science geeks know that today, December 21, at precisely 5:03 p.m. CST in the US, there’s a reason to start the celebrations early: the winter solstice. I’m one of those science geeks, and for the past three years I’ve written a post on the winter solstice.

In 2011 we were in the middle of an RTW, and spent the month of December in Athens. Ancient Greeks didn’t let the solstice pass without notice, and their month-long Festival of Poseidon was a great chance to blow off some steam.


The solstice in 2012 was our first year on St. Simons, and as newbies, we loved watching the changes of seasons at the beach. But with a tip of the hat to history, I also wrote about the Roman version of solstice celebrations; Saturnalia.

In last year’s post I cranked up the geekometer a bit. The post was primarily about shadow length, and thanks to the sun’s angle, how it changes depending on location. With some help from blogging buddies Sue and Dave in the great white north (Calgary) we made a quasi-scientific observation: an 18 ft shadow there vs. my 9 ft!.

Shadow People

And Lisa, Mississippi native, gifted artist and Ecuadorian expat, lives 10 miles from the equator. A link to her wonderful, clever post on the summer solstice provided, in science-speak; another data point. Surprisingly, our readers exposed a bit of their inner-geek with lots of funny and interesting comments on this post.

If Terri and I have planned properly, we’re in place somewhere at the holidays, and not on the road. It’s a relaxing and reflective time for us. A time to digest what’s happened, and a time to look ahead. If the sun makes an appearance today, we’ll take a couple of adult beverages and watch ol’ Sol sink into the marsh in the west. Thanks again to all our readers who’ve hung in there with us for another year. Happy Solstice Y’all!

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

P.S. Deborah Byrd’s Earthsky website is a fun place to learn all about the solstice.

Sunset over the marsh


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

54 thoughts

    1. Thanks Laura. It’s cool, gray and rainy here today, so the sunset will have to wait for better weather. Of course, it’s 56° so I probably shouldn’t complain, because it’s probably 26° in your neck of the woods. But we will raise a glass around 6:03 to toast the solstice. I hope you can do the same. ~James

  1. I loved following along with the two of you this year. Many places you have visited I most likely will not get to but I felt like I was there with you, given your wonderful prose and beautiful photos. I hope you both have a blessed Christmas, filled with lots of joy. 🙂

    1. Thanks LuAnn. We can always count on you for thoughtful, meaningful comments and we appreciate them very much. We enjoy sharing our experiences, and it’s particularly rewarding when people like you spend time reading and sharing their thoughts with us and our other readers. I hope that all is going well for you and Terry in SoCal, and hope you have a wonderful holiday. ~James

      1. Thanks so much James and Terri. We are enjoying our time in So. Cal and hope you are enjoying your holiday in that beautiful place you call home. We have fond memories of our time in St. Simons Island. 🙂

  2. Celebrating the Winter Solstice is the civilized thing to do…. while the other holiday becomes more and more commercialized and meaningless, I like the idea of contemplating the change of seasons. Lovely moonlight photo.

    1. It’s interesting that, as a culture, we’re so out of touch with the seasons, the sky, and nature in general when our ancestors were totally in sync. Of course for them, watching the night sky was one of the few entertainments they had. But still … Happy Holidays and Solstice. ~James

  3. Terri and James besides being fellow geeks ( thanks so much for the shout out) we are huge fans of you and your blog. A shocking aurprise I know! 🙂
    Many thanks not only for your great posts but your willingness to mentor newer bloggers. I appreciate it so very much. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season!

    1. Thanks Sue. We’re flattered to be asked for advice, and enjoy being a help. I hope that you and Dave are having a nice solstice in the great white north. BTW, do you guys ever see the Aurora in Calgary? The city seems far enough north, and you certainly pay your cold weather dues. If you don’t see the Northern Lights, I personally think that you’re getting gypped. ~James

      1. James there are too many lights here to see it. Growing up on the Canadian prairies we would frequently see them. This of course does not stop me from wanting to head to Finland and have a look there. :)Today we went to the mountains and went snow tubing and snow shoeing. So much fun we giggled like little kids. Post to follow. 🙂

  4. well the page loaded but most of the images did not.. i’ll check back when ithe connection is stronger.

    all’s quiet on the river, and i’ll pour a token glass of wine in your honor as the sun slinks to the horizon later today.

    a few wordpress friends have suggested that i use gerbils or hamsters or even the ocean’s waves to power the internet for a faster connection! i’ll dangle a branch of quinoa in front of the gerbils and hope they boost the power and kick this comment in your direction.

    1. Thanks Liza, I got the comment just fine, so it seems the gerbils are on the job. I know how frustrating it is to have crappy internet connections, and sometimes I think that intermittent connections are more frustrating than no connection. On our last RTW we were in some pretty remote spots and our connections were usually OK. Not great mind you, but workable. Do you know what is it about your area that makes the connections so bad? ~James

      1. the people in town have much faster internet. mine works from the claro phone tower/usb modem. it’s fast in cities but really slow when there’s a weak signal/tower. i’m about 5 kilometers from the tower, and a metal mixing bowl amplifies the signal!

        thanks again for tipping your readers’ attention in my direction. we’re about to have coffee with Sr. Poseidon and we hope to make peace and keep him on good behavior.

    1. Thanks Tess. I must admit that I’m a sucker for these old, gilded clocks. They’re all over Europe, and are the model of function, but they’re colorful and whimsical at the same time. I can’t get enough of them. Happy Holidays to you as well. ~James

  5. Happy Winter Solstice both of you. Love all your posts. Thanks for informing and entertaining so many of us! We are still learning how to relax. Maybe by this time next year. Have a wonderful Christmas!!

    1. Thanks very much Darlene. From my experience in southern Spain, you’ll have no problems relaxing; unless you’re working on the next book, in which case, you’ll have to pace yourself. It is southern Spain after all. Happy Holidays and enjoy the solstice. ~James

    1. Thank Alison. And may your 2015 be happy and healthy as well. And my your itchy feet keep pulling you along to exotic places. We look forward to reading about your adventures. ~James

  6. The sun is hiding as well here, James and Terri. But we are more than ready to join in the toast and welcome the few minutes of extra daylight Old Sol will start providing each day. Enjoy you holidays and contemplation. Looking forward to traveling with you in the New Year. – Curt and Peggy

    1. Thanks very much Curt. Due to the time difference, we’ll get our drink sooner than you, but we’ll be thinking of you nonetheless. And BTW, with a new ebook being published soon, you might want to make some type of offering to Old Sol today. The solstice has been an auspicious day in the past. And since you lived in Liberia, I’m sure you know the kinds of things a sun god would like.

      BTW folks, check out a preview post for Curt’s soon-to-be-published-book:

      Best of luck with the book Curt, and Happy Holidays to you and Peggy. ~James

  7. In my hometown of Brighton in the UK there’s a winter festival to celebrate the solstice. It’s called ‘The Burning of the Clocks’ . Local communities make paper lanterns which they procession down to the beach where there’s a huge bonfire and fireworks. An alternative celebration to the usual festivities.

    1. This sounds like the perfect solstice celebration to me Suzanne. It has the light as well as the time covered, and Brighton Beach is the ideal spot for fireworks. When we lived in London, we had a flat in Earl’s Court on Bramham Gardens. They had a bonfire there on Guy Fawkes Day, which of course, has nothing to do with the solstice, but it was a fun time nonetheless. Happy Solstice. ~James

  8. Happy Solstice to the two of you!! Thanks for taking us along on your great adventures and sharing your observations. I’m enjoyed tagging along this year!
    Looking forward to brighter days ahead! 🙂

    1. Happy Solstice to you and thanks for continuing to follow along Joanne. It’s gloomy and rainy here today so no sunset for us, but we’ll toast the solstice anyway. And BTW, how far north are you in Ontario? You could be an excellent data point for shadow length next year. ~James

      1. I’m in Toronto … sitting on top of Lake Ontario. I expect our shadow is shorter than Sue’s in Calgary.

        Like you, I’m fascinated by this stuff … the solstice, changing seasons and even the differences – which can be significant – between my home town in Northern Ontario and Toronto.

  9. Maybe now we have passed our summer solstice summer will settle down to being warm and sunny. So far it has been hot/cold/trying to rain/dry/windy … and that could be in just an hour or two!

    Thank you for letting me tag along through the year … the photos are worth seeing every time!

    1. Thanks Judy. It’s great to hear from someone in the southern hemisphere with a summer weather report. I understand the science about the tilt of the planet and how and that impacts the solstice and weather. But I have to admit, it still freaks me out to think that it can be frigid in the north and burning hot in the south. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and thanks for continuing to follow along. ~James

  10. The summer solstice in Alaska is always a bit party day, as there are 21 hours of sunlight and 3 hours of twilight. Winter solstice is a bit of a celebration also, even though in interior AK you are lucky to any light at all. In the winter, at least every day thereafter is 7 minutes longer!

    1. Each day 7 minutes longer – very interesting point that I hadn’t thought about Jeff. I just checked, and on the island at this time of year, each day is 1 second longer! What an amazing difference! That’s the curvature of the earth coming in to play in a big way. Happy Solstice and Happy Holidays. ~James

  11. Thank you James and Terri for sharing your solstice story as well as a few insights from your ‘inner geek.’ To me, the best thing about this time of year for those of us in the northern latitudes that miss the sunshine, is that the days start getting longer again. It also means there are some high profile football games to be aired very soon. Oh, and something about holidays, too! 🙂

    Merry Christmas to you both! – Mike

    1. Mike, I’ve always been very attuned to the daylight/dark cycle. When I lived in London, I absolutely loved the Christmas and New Years break, but once the holidays were over it was nothing but cold rain and very short days, it got pretty depressing. Going to work in the dark, and coming home in the dark was not fun at all. I imagine that there are a few folks in your neck of the woods that feel the same. Happy Holidays to you and Florence as well. ~James

  12. Dear Terri and James, May you enjoy a lovely, Sol-filled and “adult-beverage”-infused Solstice! Thanks for the info tidbits too. Happy rest-of-the-holidays and new year 😉

    1. Thanks Amit. Sol was shrouded in gray, rainy clouds, so we had to settle for a cocktail indoors. But we toasted the longer days to come and are looking forward to the Spring equinox (March 20 I believe). Happy Holidays to you as well. ~James

    1. Thanks so much for reblogging our post Carole. I love these gilded clocks, and I photograph every one that I see. I particularly like the Medieval clocks. Happy Solstice and Happy Holidays. ~James

    1. We spent three years in London Nicole, where we learned that no matter how cool a city is, short days, rain and overcast skies can get oppressive. And of course, in MN you can add the snow effect. Here’s to longer days and warmer weather. Happy Solstice and Happy Holidays. ~James

      1. Thanks James! I do have a sunlight and take vitamin D! 🙂 That has helped a lot! Happy Holidays to you and Terri and all the best for 2015! Nicole

    1. Marie, our three years in London taught us that the days can be short there, so any increase in daylight was something to celebrate. It’s interesting to me how the importance of the day has changed throughout history, and I must admit that it’s nice to have a secular holiday to balance out Christmas. ~James

What do you think? We'd love to know!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s