Welcome December

Near the beginning of each month we like to pause and take a look at what’s going on in the world around us. Over time, these posts have transformed into a little op-ed about what’s going on with us each month.

We’re only five days into December, and I feel like it’s been here for ever. It must be the Christmas invasion.

December can create such a mix of emotions in us. There’s the obvious joy and celebration of the holidays, but there’s also the hustle and bustle leading up to Christmas and New Years. There’s the cozy feeling of evenings in front of the fire, but also the pent up energy and angst from short days and not enough time spent outside.

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Just reading that probably gave someone the shivers. Sorry.

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Welcome December!

On the first Wednesday of each month we like to pause and take a look at what’s going on in the world around us, with a particular focus on animal activity, celestial events, and our farmers’ fields.

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Earth and Sky:

The sky is a flurry of activity this month. Dust off your telescope and bundle up because there is a lot to see.  This Friday (December 5th) I’m hoping to light a campfire and gaze up at the Cold Moon also known as the Long Nights Moon.  It rises during sunset and sets around sunrise on Saturday morning.  This is the only night all month when the moon is in the sky all night long; the other days, the moon is present, at least for a bit, in the daytime sky.

  •  Also on Friday, the full moon passes a bit north of Aldebaran, the red giant star, and the Hyades star cluster making for an amazing conjunction.  A little bit about Aldebaran: It’s the red eye of Taurus the bull and it’s also 66 light-years away.  If you’re familiar with Taurus you know that the rest of the face is made of the V-shaped Hyades cluster.  The glare of the nearly full moon will block your view of Hyades, but you should be able to see the cluster with a pair of binoculars.  The moon will glide by the Hyades cluster over the course of a few hours on Friday evening making it easy to witness the moon’s motion across our sky.
  • If you have access to a telescope, now’s the time to use it.  On Saturday evening (December 6) you can see the sky’s most famous and apparently the best example of a supernova remnant.  Find the moon, hold your arm out straight, pointing at the moon and now make a fist.  Crab Nebula should be about 4 degrees above the moon, which is a little less than the width of your fist.  Crab Nebula is about 7,000 light-years away and shines only faintly. According to National Geographic, Crab Nebula was first seen in the sky by Chinese astronomers during 1054 A.D. when it exploded.
  • The Geminid meteor shower peaks on the evening of the 13th and early morning of the 14th.  The last quarter moon will interfere a tad, but you should still see some action.  Each of the meteors can be traced back to Gemini, which rises in the northeast late at night.  The best meteors will be visible about ninety degrees away from Gemini.
  • I hope you kept your telescope handy. Shortly after midnight on December 15th, the shadows of both lo and Europa will fall simultaneously on Jupiter.  The event lasts for about fifty minutes at approximately 1:12 – 2:02 a.m. Good luck!
  • If you’re an early riser, you’ll see a pleasant sight on Friday, December 19th. Saturn returns to its station as a morning star sitting close to the waning crescent moon just before sunrise.  

Of course these aren’t the only sky events going on this month, but it’s an exciting list to start with.

Winter is not my ideal time to visit the farmers market, but I do try to make an effort to go several times a month.  Mostly I just feel bad for the frozen farmers, but I also need to eat veggies too and what better place to purchase them, am I right? I was considering signing up for a winter farm share, but I never ended up sealing the deal. Did you catch any of Katie’s posts or pics about her  CSA this season? So envious! Even though it’s a lot colder here in North Carolina than it was at this time last month, there is a lot in season. I spotted beets, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin, winter squash and oriental veggies at my market. There were also a bunch of collards, kale, mustard greens, lettuce, and spinach among other fall and winter veggies. Need I mention that it is the best place to buy handmade wreaths and other holiday greenery?!

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 Earth Days and Events:

Speaking of holidays, along with Bodhi, Festivus, Kwanza, Christmas and Hanukkah, there are also a couple earth holidays this month.  December 5th is a big day for sky events, but also for our soil!  The World Soil Day campaign aims to connect people with soils in order to raise awareness about their critical importance in our lives.  If you are a gardener you know that much is obvious, but many might not see the important connection.  Soil is neglected by many.  We pollute the water, air and environment, which all equates to poor soil quality.  Without proper care for our soils, it turns full circle and we neglect the overall quality of our food, water, biodiversity and overall quality of life. So speak about soil on December 5th!

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On December 11 the world celebrates International Mountain Day.  The United Nations General Assembly founded the day in order to encourage the international community to highlight the importance of sustainable mountain development.  I’m sure we have all viewed a mountain fondly, maybe hiked up one or even lived on one so we know the importance of taking care of that sacred space.  This years theme for International Mountain Day is farming.  According to the FAO, mountain farming is predominantly family farming and has been a model for sustainable for development for centuries.  I had the opportunity to work with Jamaican farmers on disaster preparedness and most of my work took place in the Blue Mountains.  I hadn’t known about this holiday until an hour ago, but now I’m going to explore options for spreading the word and awareness about the importance of sustainable mountain development.  This year provides an occasion to discuss how family farming in mountain regions is undergoing rapid transformation due to economic globalization, growing populations, and urbanization.

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I feel like the Autumn Equinox was just yesterday, but alas the winter solstice takes place on the 21st.  Solstice comes from the Latin words “sol” which means “sun” and “sistere” which means “to stand still.” So what does this day mean in terms of the sun?  The sun is the farthest from the equatorial place, which causes longer days and nights. The sun reaches its southernmost position in the sky, and begins moving northward again.  If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, the December solstice marks the longest night, but if you are in the Southern Hemisphere it marks the longest day. I love the winter solstice because it means the days start growing longer again! Just typing this paragraph is making me smile and lifting the weight of the winter darkness off my shoulders.

While I couldn’t nail down too many compelling migration stories for this December Welcome post, it got me thinking that as humans, we do a lot of moving during this month.  We flock to stores, tree farms, holiday parties, family homes and even go on vacations.  Personally, I’ve done some of my favorite traveling during the month of December whether it was sunning myself near the Andaman Sea or freezing my buns off in Germany, the cheer and relaxation of the end of the calendar year was always present in the air.  Here are a few quick traveling suggestions for the month of December:

Antarctica is buzzing with activity right now.  The seabirds are courting and mating and the penguins chicks are starting to hatch.  The days are twenty hours long, which means more time to spot penguins feeding their tiny chicks!  I always said that if I ever went on a cruise it would be to Antarctica and after reading Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple, I am very tempted.  The feeling of seeing a landscape like nothing I’ve ever experienced before lights a fire in my belly. One day people, one day.

Guatemala has a few intriguing festivals in December.  On December 7th you can help the Guatemalans burn the devil. In local traditions, the devil lurks in the corners of homes, beneath beds and among garbage. Each year, as a prelude to Christmas, homes are cleaned, rubbish is collected, an effigy of the devil is thrown on top, and it’s all set aflame. From the 13-21st the highland city of Chichicastenango (Chichi) celebrates its patron saint with a week of typical festivities like parades, traditional dances, fireworks. On St Thomas’ Day (Dec 21) wooden poles as high as 30m are raised in the plaza beside the Iglesia de Santo Tomás and the dance of the palo volador (flying pole) begins.  It sounds absolutely terrifying to me, but as I understand it, two ropes hang from the top of each pole and the dancers ascend in pairs, scaling the poles on wooden steps and tying the ropes to their bodies. Then they leap, swirling around the pole at high speed, the ropes unravelling as they go, lowering them to the ground. Some hang onto the rope with their hands, and others tie it around their ankles. That doesn’t sound like something I’m capable of doing without peeing my pants, but I would love to witness it!

Last, but surely not least, Europe has all kinds of amazing Christmas markets taking place this month.  Katie and I had a chance to visit the Christkindlesmarkts of Germany and they were AMAZING. Each and every one was awe-inspiring and it really put the joy and wonder back into Christmas.  As an adult, I think it’s easy to overlook or take for granted the magical feeling of the season – all the giving, cheer and pure love that is flowing around, but after visiting the historic markets and experiencing the culture and tradition my wonderment was recharged.  It is almost like the medieval markets simplified (in the best way) my holiday season.  I’m finding it a little hard to explain right now so you may just have to visit the markets yourself.  Kate and I plan on reliving our week of Christkindlesmarkt experiences in a blog post later this month so that you can get a better feel for the adventure and maybe plan your own for next year!

Personally, as I welcome December I try to make a concerted effort to simplify and shed for the coming year.  I can easily get caught up in buying in excess because an item is cheap or has immediate appeal, but I try to keep a handle on it.  With all consuming I try to remember that the product used energy to be made and shipped to my city and that it will also take energy to dispose of it. Along with the season, what are you welcoming this December?

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