The Winter Solstice, the moment when the Earth’s axial tilt is fully 23º26′ from the Sun, is tomorrow, Sunday, December 21st, at 4:03 PM MST in the northern hemisphere. It is, of course, the Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Earth’s orbit is elliptical not circular. The earliest sunset (in the northern hemisphere) was around two weeks ago. The latest sunrise is in about two weeks.

But Sunday is the shortest time between the two, the least daylight of the year in the northern hemisphere.

For more than 1600 years in western Europe the northern winter solstice was celebrated on December 25th, though astronomically it increasingly came later than that due to errors in the Julian calendar.

Christmas Music

On iTunes I have 476 tracks identified as Christmas music. I’ve created a playlist with them that automatically drops a track off after it’s been played. At this writing I have all 476 left to hear this year.

The types of music vary widely from Classical to Country, Jazz and New Age, but include of course the usual standards of which I suppose Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” is the archetype. (Of the 476 tracks, 12 are in fact versions of “White Christmas” including two copies of Bing.)

I have a lot of favorites. I grew up in Catholic schools, so am nostalgic when I hear the carols, and have several albums of guitar covers by artists like John Fahey and Eric Williams. I particularly like Christmas in Santa Fe by Ruben Romero & Robert Notkoff, Winter Dreams by R. Carlos Nakai & William Eaton and Navidad Cubana by Cuba L.A. — it gets you dancing around the old árbol de Navidad.

And no collection is complete without Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas.

But when it comes down to it, this may be my favorite. It’s an OK video but the point is to enjoy Clyde McPhatter tenor and Bill Pinkney’s bass.

Updated and reposted from years past.

Man of Principle

Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy, was born on this date in 1939. Davis played for Syracuse — he was on their undefeated National Championship team as a sophomore in 1959 — and wore the same number as Jim Brown, 44. He was the number one pick in the 1962 NFL draft, selected by the Washington franchise. Davis was the first African-American drafted by the Washington team, and then only under pressure from Stewart Udall who, as Secretary of the Interior, controlled the stadium where the team played. Davis refused to play for Washington, hence the trade to Cleveland. During the summer of 1962 Davis was diagnosed with acute monocytic leukemia; he died the following May.

Scotts Bluff National Monument (Nebraska)

… was so designated on this date in 1919. It is one of five National Park Service sites in Nebraska.


Towering eight hundred feet above the North Platte River, Scotts Bluff has been a natural landmark for many peoples, and it served as the path marker for those on the Oregon, California, Mormon, and Pony Express Trails.

Scotts Bluff National Monument preserves 3,000 acres of unusual land formations which rise over the otherwise flat prairieland below.

From various tribes of Native Americans living and travelling through the area to our modern towns with populations made of many different cultures, Scotts Bluff has served as a landmark for a huge diversity of peoples.

Although earlier people did not leave very much that shows what the bluffs meant to them, evidence shows they did camp at the foot of the bluff. On the other hand, the westward emigrants of the 19th century often mentioned Scotts Bluff in their diaries and journals. In fact, it was the second most referred to landmark on the Oregon, Mormon and California trails after Chimney Rock. Over 250,000 people made their way through the area between 1843 and 1869, often pausing in wonder to see such a natural marvel and many remembered it long after their journeys were over.

Scotts Bluff National Monument


Those bags with sand and candles that are a New Mexico Christmas Eve tradition; the correct name for them is farolitos.

Often farolitos are called luminarias. Lumanarias traditionally were actually small bonfires.

Farolitos (literally “little lanterns”) replaced lumanarias (“altar lamps”) as towns became more densely populated. The purpose of both was to light the path to midnight mass.

Farolitos are the coolest Christmas decoration ever, especially when whole neighborhoods line their sidewalks, driveways and even roof-lines with them. (Electric versions are common and can be found throughout the season. The real deal are candles and displayed only on Christmas Eve.)

Buy some sand (for ballast), some votive candles and some lunch bags and bring a beautiful New Mexico Christmas Eve tradition to your neighborhood this year. Get your neighbors to join you. You could become famous if it’s never been done in your area. And the kids love it.

Wupatki National Monument (Arizona)

… was proclaimed 90 years ago today (December 9, 1924).


Wupatki National Monument was established by President Calvin Coolidge on December 9, 1924, to preserve Citadel and Wupatki pueblos. Monument boundaries have been adjusted several times since then, and now include additional pueblos and other archeological resources on a total of 35,422 acres.

Wupatki represents a cultural crossroads, home to numerous groups of people over thousands of years. Understanding of earlier people comes from multiple perspectives, including the traditional history of the people themselves and interpretations by archeologists of structures and artifacts that remain. …

Today, Wupatki National Monument protects 56 square miles … of high desert directly west of the Little Colorado River and the Navajo Reservation. Its vistas preserve clues to geologic history, ecological change, and human settlement. All are intertwined.

Wupatki National Monument