At the equator, the difference is nil. The longest day and the shortest day don’t deviate from the standard day length. The further you move from the equator, the more dramatic the effect is. Here in the northern hemisphere this is our longest day, the solstice. Historically, particularly in countries to the northern edge of the northern hemisphere, this is a holiday. Midsummer marked the days of sun and growth. Light is abundant—too abundant to sleep well in the furthest reaches. Being visually oriented creatures, we enjoy the surfeit of light. Light has long been a symbol of the divine for, I suppose, just that reason. It makes us feel secure and safe. We can see what’s going on around us.
In Antarctica, today is the shortest day of the year. Indeed, around now there is seldom any light at all. On the exact same day there are literally polar opposites on this planet. The summer here is winter there. It’s the first day of winter in the global south. Their understanding of this day is completely different. Of course, once you reach the shortest day, things can only improve. The climb to summer lasts half a year, only to have the decline immediately begin again. The difference is as subtle as it is inexorable. For those of us who wake before the sun, it’s already obvious that sunrise is coming later than it did last week. The earliest sunrise was the fourteenth. Sunset will come later and later for the next few days, to compensate for the lost morning light, but overall there will be less and less until we are the winter half of the world.
There are many lessons to learn here. In a world where the longest and shortest days are the same day—solstices depend on where you live—we don’t fight over it. This despite the fact that light is our most precious commodity. We simply accept that we celebrate light when we have it, and await its coming when we don’t. Other resources we fight over. Potable water. Petroleum products. Arable land. Silently, radiantly, light shows us the way. There’s an inevitability here. Through long experience on the earth we simply accept it. The other option is to fight over what we can’t control, which is futility defined. There are lessons to learn from the longest day. And if it’s your shortest day, you know that all will be forgiven at the next equinox.