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Dec. 19-25 Explained: How The Winter Solstice Can Bring Healing & Hope

Gene J. Puskar

Nine hours, 17 minutes and 35 seconds of sunlight will shine in Pittsburgh's sky on Christmas day. That's 37 seconds more than appeared on Monday, the winter solstice, and the shortest day of the year. 

While those 37 seconds might not make a significant difference in many lives, the knowledge that the days are getting longer is particularly welcome for many people this year.

Erica Shadowsong, Lifespan religious education director at the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh, guided the church's annual winter solstice service. During college she studied folklore and myth and found paganism as "a form of ritual and a way of touching the divine."

Her church is historically Christian, but provides a space for worshippers to explore their own spiritual paths. During this year's solstice service, Shadowsong recounted the Greek story of Persephone, and her descent into the underworld.

"It’s about the power of death ... nobody gets to escape it," Shadowsong said. "Everybody is touched by death, and [Persephone's] case, she’s so powerful she actually conquers both realms. She becomes the Queen of the Underworld. I’m telling it sort of like a resurrection story."

Shadowsong said the winter solstice can be a time for personal reflection and growth. Many pagans consider the day to be like New Year's Eve.

"That symbolically is important," Shadowsong said. "Themes of life and death are big in pagan spirituality. Things have to die for things to live. Life and death are necessary."

Pittsburgh Explainer is hosted by Liz Reid and produced by Katie Blackley. New episodes come out every Friday. Subscribe on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher and Spotify.

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA and 91.3 WYEP, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community.