“What is Mercury in retrograde or something?” the woman sputtered at the table beside me as she quickly dabbed at her computer, which she’d just spilled an entire large coffee over.
“It feels like a retrograde,” my coffee date sagely whispered to me. “I’ve been all out of sorts and super emotionally lately … That has to have something to do with it.” Honestly, the entire interaction felt like a skit straight out of SNL, meant to poke fun at hippie-esque culture in Los Angeles. But my friend’s words had a hint of truth to them—I’d been in a strange mood, too, and couldn’t put my finger on why. Technically, Mercury is in retrograde from December 19 to January 8 … Could it have something to do with planetary alignment?
If you’ve tooled around on the internet over the past year, you’re well aware of the phenomenon that is Mercury Retrograde. There are shirts, key chains, hell, there’s even a site that tells you if mercury is in retrograde or not at any given moment. But what does it all actually mean? Here’s what you need to know.
Astrology-skeptics love to point out that Mercury isn’t technically moving backward, so it’s not actually in retrograde. It’s true—Mercury doesn’t literally reverse its orbit … but it looks like it does, and that’s all that matters.
Think about it this way: Earth is a lot bigger and slower than compact little Mercury. The smaller planet completes a full orbit more quickly, causing it to pass Earth three or four times a year as the planets make their way around the Sun. When Mercury passes by Earth, it appears to slow and even hold in space. It’s an optical illusion created by the fact that both plants are simply moving together for a few days, until Mercury’s quicker orbit overcome’s Earth’s slow crawl.
Stargazers look to the movement of the planet Mercury to describe what happens during the three weeks of retrograde. As the planet seems to spin backward and out of control, so do the daily aspects of our lives—especially the ones that the planet Mercury controls, like travel, technology, and communication.
Because it’s the ruler of travel—you’ve probably seen statues of the ancient Roman god Mercury with winged sandals—Mercury’s retrograde is bad news for holiday travel plans. Think of it this way: Whatever can go wrong, probably will. Delayed flights, lost baggage, misplaced passports … expect it all to hit during this holiday season.
There’s not much you can do to prevent travel woes, other than triple-check your luggage and make sure you leave extra early for the airport (and mentally prepare for potential delays).
Geologically, Mercury is a really interesting planet. It’s tiny, but its core is predominately made up of iron. This core is so strong that it throws off a magnetic field that’s even more powerful that Earth’s, which could be why tech and electronic devices tend to go wonky during Mercury Retrograde. Everything from a crashing computer hard drive to a shattered iPhone could be due to the planetary movements—so be extra careful around this time.
Don’t buy any new technology or try to update software (if you missed the new emoji update, you’re outta luck until January 9th).
Honestly, the Retrograde couldn’t come at a worse time. You’re likely to be spending lots of time with friends and family during what some consider a high-stress holiday, so maintaining clear lines of communication is necessary but will be tricky during Mercury Retrograde.
You might feel like you can’t fully explain yourself or say how you feel during the days between December 19th and January 8th—and its pretty normal to feel out of sorts, frustrated, sad, or defeated and not understand why. Again, this has to do with Mercury spinning out of control, so don’t lose your head over it. Acknowledge that it’s not your fault, and that everyone else probably feels like this, too.
Because communication is strained, it’s best to avoid the following:
But the retrograde can also have positive effects in our lives, too. According to Tali Edut from AstroStyle, this is the time to focus on the re- aspect of retrograde. This time is like a big do-over—it’s a good time to reassess, refocus, and return to unfinished business or past relationships. Says Edut, “Don’t start anything new. Review all your contracts before you sign. Renew your commitments, rather than making new ones. Prepare to repeat yourself often.”
Expect to see the return of old, unsettled goings-on. Never got closure with that one ex? You’ll probably run into him during the retrograde. Forgot to respond to an email about an exciting business opportunity? Now’s the time to go through your inbox and see what you may have missed.