Here's Why Astrologers Are Nervous About This Year's Winter Solstice

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The winter solstice is quite literally the darkest day of the year, but in 2017, it applies figuratively as well. According to astrologers, Mercury retrograde and the winter solstice intersect on Dec. 21, and it's not great news for anyone with big decisions to make. (So... everyone who hasn't made a holiday shopping list yet?) On top of the much-derided planetary phase, the Sun will move into Capricorn on the same day Saturn does the same thing, so the two celestial bodies will be lined up. That's quite a bit of activity up there in the skies, leaving us Earthlings struggling for direction.

For those who merely dabble in astrology (or astronomy, for that matter), the winter solstice represents the first official day of winter. The Earth orbits on a tilted axis; from September to March, the Northern Hemisphere gets less exposure to sunlight than the bottom half of the planet, making the days shorter and the nights longer. The shortest day of them all is the winter solstice. Technically "solstice" refers to the moment the Sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, but the entire day counts. This year, that will be at 11:28 a.m. on Thursday.

That's all established scientific fact. Astrologists, however, have ascribed further meaning to the solstice. According to astrology site Forever Conscious, it represents a "significant turning point and start of a new cycle." With its connection to Capricorn, the December solstice is also linked to Saturn, the planet that rules over the sign of the mountain goat. Generally, the planet is associated with moderation and responsibility, so the solstice is a good time to slow down at take a look at your life decisions.

"Capricorn is inclined to encourage us to take responsibility, but there's also a hint of judgment of what others do that causes us to want to take control," writes Lunar Living.

Meanwhile, you've probably heard people bemoan the horrors of Mercury retrograde. Each planet goes through this phase at some point, but Mercury does it more often than others (usually, three or four times a year). "Retrograde" refers to an apparent change in the planet's movement, so it appears to be going backwards in the sky. While that's an optical illusion, astrologists believe that this motion still disrupts life down on Earth.

Mercury is generally thought to rule over domains like technology, travel, and communication. When it enters retrograde, these aspects of life might go a little haywire. Wifi might be slow, flights can get cancelled, and so on.

With the winter solstice and Mercury retrograde taking place on Thursday, what does that mean for you? Basically, take things slow. According to AstroStyle, you can expect to be "motivated by feelings of responsibility, ambition, and respect for law and order" while the Sun is in Capricorn. You may be a little more introspective than normal, and that's OK. Forever Conscious explains:

"Most of us spend the year in a constant state of busyness so we never really stop to pause and see what is bubbling within. But with the December Solstice energy, we are all going to be given the opportunity to take a peek at what is happening on a heart and soul level."

You might feel renewed motivation to work toward a long-term goal — but be careful not to take any drastic actions without seriously considering them first. Mercury is in retrograde, after all. You may struggle to make yourself understood, and arguments can flare up at a moment's notice. Travel plans are on shaky ground, so prepare to go with the flow. Basically, don't expect everything to go as smoothly as you would like.

AstroStyle suggests holding off on any new plans and focusing on renewal. "Reunite with old friends, redecorate a room, rekindle a romance," the website advises.

If you can, give yourself a few extra days to finish projects. They aren't going anywhere without you. (Probably.) Your safest bet is to spend the solstice in introspection, figuring out what to do with the rest of 2017 and how you'll approach 2018.

Before you give up all hope and decide to hibernate for the rest of the winter, there's some good news. Mercury goes direct again on Dec. 22, and it will remain that way until March 22, 2018. During that time, its domains (travel, communication, and technology) will return to business as usual. If you can make it to Friday with your life intact, you'll be in good shape for the new year.