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Celestial Reminders; A lunar eclipse, the winter solstice, how much chocolate and links to past seasonal letters
Jacob Schor ND, FABNO
December 20, 2010

There will be a total eclipse of the moon tonight, the only one of the year.  For those of us who took their last ‘earth science’ class at some time in the last millennium, let us pause for a simple review of what this means.
Recall that the moon is lit by light from the sun reflected off its surface back to the earth.        We see the moon only when the earth is between sun and moon.  When the moon is between earth and sun, we don’t see it, this is what we call the new moon.  During a lunar eclipse the moon passes through the earth’s shadow and it blocks the sun’s light.  In a total lunar eclipse the full moon passes entirely through the shadow.  That this eclipse coincides with the winter solstice is a rare and unusual event.
The eclipse will last about three and a half hours, starting around 11:15 mountain time tonight.  The time when the moon is entirely inside the shadow will last a little over an hour and begin at 12:41 mountain time.
That this will occur on the solstice should give us some pause, if only to consider what consternation a similar overlap of events might have engendered in earlier times.  It was probably enough to have faith that the sun would return to its place high in the sky and days lengthen again in earlier times.  To have the moon disappear on the longest night of the year, that might have been taken as an unwanted omen.
Richard Cohen, author of “Chasing the Sun” wrote an op-ed that appears in this morning’s New York Times in which he briefly recounts the history of mankind’s observance of the winter solstice.  You can read it at:
Over the years we have posted a number of newsletters related to various aspects of the holiday season.  It seems that any one of them was sure to offend at least some  person’s political or religious viewpoint as we regularly received requests to be removed from our mailing list after sending them out.  Below are links to some of our favorite newsletters:
December 2005’s newsletter touched on the origin of Santa Claus with the reindeer people of the far north and their shamanistic use of amanita mushrooms as a lead in to a discussion of betulinic acid and chaga mushrooms to treat melanoma.
Follow up letters on betulinic acid were published in 2007:
and 2008:
A 2006 newsletter purporting to be on the medicinal effects of cranberries touched on the forgotten historic detail that the celebration of Christmas was banned in the early New England colonies.  This view of Christmas seems to have been forgotten as we now allow pre-Christmas shopping to overlap the holiday of the Puritans.  There was a reason we held off with starting the season until after Thanksgiving.
Also in 2006, we sent out a first letter on the medical use of mistletoe extracts in the treatment of cancer.  In doing so we were obligated to mention the prehistoric worship of mistletoe by the Druid populations of northern Europe who attributed many magical properties to this plant that never touches the earth.  Our holiday use of mistletoe descends from these earlier rites.
A January 2010 update on use of mistletoe and cancer does little to further the history but does certainly provide useful medical information:
In January 2008, we brought both a history and recipe for wassail, as in the noun, rather than the verb, along with a medical justification to drink up:
Speaking of wassail reminds me that far earlier, we touched upon the history of nutmeg, it’s medical uses and the history of New Amsterdam and the trade the Dutch made with the English that brought us New York:
Last year, for Christmas 2009, we sent out a history and recipe for Christmas Stollen.        We are not the first people in history to realize that butter tastes better in baked goods than canola oil does.  Few people realize that it was the Protestant Reformation that gave us stollen baked with butter:
Oh, yes, how much chocolate?  I’ve had a number of emails in response to our recent newsletter on chocolate and how it decreases heart disease.  Recall that Elisabeth Mostofsky’s research group at Harvard recent calculated that risk of heart failure was, “… 32% lower among those who consumed 1 to 2 servings of chocolate per week…”
I don’t recall that the paper defined how big a serving was by weight.  The participants were apparently simply asked frequency of consumption.  You can read the full text of the study at: