OK, there are two ways we can look at this: Pollyanna-ishly or realistically.
Thursday, Dec. 22 at 12:30 a.m. marks the official beginning of the solar winter.
For what slight comfort that is, it is the longest night of the year, although the daylight hours will begin getting infinitesimally longer.
We will march through this gloom until March 20, the vernal equinox and start of the solar spring, 80 long, cheerless days away.
But the National Weather Service offers a happier alternative for those of us willing to delude ourselves into a false sense of wellbeing. For the weather service, winter begins on Dec. 1 and ends on Feb. 29, which means — and I know we're grabbing at straws here, but desperate times demand desperate statistics — that winter is 27 percent done with, over one-fourth gone, as of this writing.
True, the second and third weeks of January are generally the year's coldest in the northern hemisphere, and the National Weather Service, between learned asides about the Arctic Oscillation and La Nina, will attempt a best guess as to whether your part of the country will get hammered by snow, sleet, freezing rain and other winter miseries.
The only reason the Dec. 22 solstice is more widely embraced than Dec. 1 as the start of winter is that pagans, druids and animist religions celebrated it with food, drink and debauchery — but then again, there wasn't much the pagans, etc., didn't celebrate.
We're on the side of the Pollyanna and the National Weather Service on this one, no disrespect to the pagans, mind you. The thought that winter is over one-fourth gone is too good a thought to pass up.
Even so, we're steeling ourselves for at least some disappointment.
• • •
Dale McFeatters is a syndicated columnist.