- When is it?
- What causes the Winter Solstice?
- Winter Solstice in Earth's hemispheres
- History and folklore
- Additional information
This year the Winter Solstice will occur on Dec. 21/22. 2023.
The Winter Solstice, or the December Solstice, is the point at which the path of the sun in the sky is farthest south. At the Winter Solstice, the sun travels the shortest path through the sky resulting in the day of the year with the least sunlight and therefore, the longest night.
In the lead-up to the Winter Solstice, the days become shorter and shorter, then on the evening of the solstice — in the Northern Hemisphere occurs annually on the 21st or 22nd of December — winter begins, according to a NASA resource (opens in new tab). From then onwards the days become increasingly long leading up to the Summer Solstice, or the June Solstice, and the longest day of the year.
When is the Winter Solstice 2023?
This year the Winter Solstice will occur on Dec. 21/22. During the day, the Northern Hemisphere will have about 7 hours and 14 minutes of daylight, marking the shortest day of the year. Then at 10:27 p.m. ET (0327 GMT on Dec. 22), Earth's axis will be titled the farthest away from the sun.
To be precise, the Winter Solstice marks what is known as the "astronomical winter" — but don't worry, this doesn’t mean it will be colder than any other winter. The moniker is simply adopted to distinguish it from the meteorological winter.
While the astronomical change of seasons is related to Earth's position around the sun and its axis, the meteorological seasons are marked by the first day of a particular month. So meteorological winter proceeds astronomical winter by three weeks, occurring on Dec.1.
Though the Winter Solstice is an annual event, Earth actually experiences two Winter Solstices each year. One in the Northern Hemisphere, and the other in the Southern Hemisphere.
Earth’s journey around the sun
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According to Britannica (opens in new tab), Earth’s axis has an around 23-degree tilt and without this, not only would our planet not have a Winter Solstice, it would not have seasons at all. The axial tilt of the Earth means that as our planet journeys around the sun different areas of the planet experience varying degrees of sunlight.
Without the axial tilt, the sun would remain directly about the Equator, and everywhere on the planet would receive the same amount of light the year through.
During the Winter Solstice, the North Pole is tilted at around 23.4 degrees away from the sun, meaning its rays move southward from the Equator.
To picture this tilt, imagine skewering the Earth on a massive pole from the Northern Hemisphere, through the center of the planet, and down to the Southern Hemisphere.
This pole represents the Earth's axis and is poking out into space from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, according to an article published on NASA's Watch the Skies (opens in new tab) blog. During December, the part of the pole that extends from the Northern Hemisphere is pointing away from the sun.
Visualizing this pole, it quickly becomes obvious that as the Northern pole is angled away from our star, the Southern pole must be angled towards it.
That means Winter Solstice accounts for half of our planet's solstices. The other two are the Summer Solstices, and you may be unsurprised to learn that the four solstices are interconnected.
The Winter Solstice: North and South
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While the Winter Solstice is occurring on Dec. 21/22, 2023, in the Northern Hemisphere, this date will mark the Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.
Unsurprisingly, as the Southern Hemisphere experienced its Winter Solstice on June 21, the Northern Hemisphere has in the midst of its Summer Solstice.
Just as the Winter Solstice marks the point in the tilting of Earth’s axis at which it points the farthest from the sun, the Summer Solstice marks the point at which our planet has its maximum axial tilt towards our star.
Think about the imaginary "Earth pole" again. If the part extending from the Northern Hemisphere is pointed away from the sun, the part of the pole extending from the Southern Hemisphere points toward our star.
During the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the pole that extends from this half of the planet is pointed towards the sun. Thus in the Southern Hemisphere, that pole points away.
This reflective almost mirror-image nature extends into the phenomena surrounding the opposing solstices.
The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year, the Summer Solstice marks the longest period of sunlight. Following the Summer Solstice, the days become increasingly shorter, just as the days become longer after the Winter Solstice. During the Summer Solstice, the sun appears at its most northerly in the sky, the Winter Solstice, as mentioned, sees it as its most southerly.
Today we are aware of the astronomical events that lead to the solstices and their effect on the planet and we can imagine cosmic poles that impale our planet. But for our ancestors, these days had almost supernatural significance, meaning not only were they marked by both festivals and celebrations, they often birthed dark folkloric tales.
The Winter Solstice: History and folklore
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The significance of the Winter Solstice to our ancestors was probably a result of the fact it marked the lengthening of days, leading to its reputation as a time of rebirth.
Because of its significance, there are simply too many Winter Solstice celebrations and festivals to list. The first that springs to the minds of many is the Christian celebration of Christmas. But, the birth of Jesus Christ was not always celebrated around the Winter Solstice. The adoption of Dec. 25 was pioneered in 336 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Constantine.
Historians speculate this was done by the Emperor as a move to weaken established pagan celebrations that occurred around the Winter Solstice. The date wouldn’t be accepted by the Eastern Empire for around another 500 years, and Christmas wouldn’t become a major Christian festival until the 9th Century.
The remnants of these overshadowed pagan traditions remain in our Christmas celebrations, for instance, and according to the free dictionary (opens in new tab), the Scandinavian Winter Solstice festival of the Feast of Juul involved the burning of Juul logs to symbolize the returning of the sun, giving rise to the Christmas tradition of Yule Logs.
The Jewish festival of Hanukkah, which stated by Britannica (opens in new tab), begins on Kislev 25 usually falling in December and lasting for eight days, is also a winter celebration likely influenced by prior Winter Solstice celebrations.
With little understanding of the Earth-sun system and what astronomical bodies were, many of our predecessor’s Winter Solstice celebrations marked ritual celebrations of the death and rebirth or even the theft and return of the sun.
One such tale is the Finnish myth that centers around Louhi, a powerful and evil witch that ruled over the mythical northern realm of Pohjola. In the myth, Louhi steals the sun and the moon away, holding them captive inside a mountain, causing the waning daylight leading up to the Winter Solstice.
Of course, the superstitious aspects of the Winter Solstice have diminished as our knowledge of the solar system and astronomy has increased. Now we use heating systems and electric lights to hold the cold and dark of winter back and give little thought to the risk of sun theft.
Yet, fortunately, some traditions remain. Festivals around the Winter Solstice still mark a time to gather and celebrate even after all of our advances and the vanquishing of superstition by science.
Explore the difference between the equinox and solstice with theUK Met Office (opens in new tab). Learn how to make your own solstice and equinox "suntrack" season model withNASA and the Stanford Solar Center (opens in new tab). Discover 11 interesting June solstice facts withTime and Date (opens in new tab).
Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: email@example.com.
RobertLeais a science journalist in the U.K. whose articles have been published in Physics World, New Scientist, Astronomy Magazine, All About Space, Newsweek and ZME Science. He also writes about science communication for Elsevier and the European Journal of Physics. Rob holds a bachelor of science degree in physics and astronomy from the U.K.’s Open University. Follow him on Twitter @sciencef1rst.
winter solstice, also called hibernal solstice, the two moments during the year when the path of the Sun in the sky is farthest south in the Northern Hemisphere (December 21 or 22) and farthest north in the Southern Hemisphere (June 20 or 21).What is the winter solstice answers? ›
The winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, it occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, which is located at 23.5° south of the equator and runs through Australia, Chile, southern Brazil, and northern South Africa.What is the winter solstice explanation? ›
The winter solstice marks the exact moment when half of Earth is tilted the farthest away from the sun. It usually happens on December 21 or 22, at the exact same second around the world.What are 3 facts about winter solstice? ›
- The magic moment. ...
- The Sun stands still. ...
- Winter begins. ...
- Nine hours darker. ...
- The earliest sunset. ...
- Solstice and Christmas.
Throughout history, societies across the world have held festivals and ceremonies marking winter solstice, the day of the “sun's rebirth.” Most often, winter solstice celebrations honored the symbolism of fire and light, along with life, death, the rising sun, and the moon.What happen to the day during the solstice? ›
On two moments each year—what are called solstices—Earth's axis is tilted most closely toward the sun. The hemisphere tilted most toward our home star sees its longest day, while the hemisphere tilted away from the sun sees its longest night.What is solstice very short answer? ›
A solstice is really the moment when Earth is tilted as far away from or as close to the sun as it will be all year. This makes the sun appear to be at its farthest northern or southern position relative to Earth—appearing to be directly above either the tropic of Cancer or the tropic of Capricorn.When exactly is the winter solstice? ›
EST. For the northern half of Earth (the Northern Hemisphere), the winter solstice occurs annually on December 21 or 22. (The Southern Hemisphere's winter solstice occurs in June.)How do you explain the winter solstice to a child? ›
For kids that are familiar with the basics, you can explain that the winter solstice marks the exact moment when one of the Earth's poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun. This means that only half of the Earth is maximally distanced from the Sun.How does the winter solstice affect humans? ›
You may feel lethargic and generally exhausted because your exposure to sunlight is limited during the winter solstice. It can also affect your sleep pattern. You can cope with this feeling through vitamin D supplement or using an electronic light box to augment your lack of exposure to sunlight.
It can be a time to rest and reflect. In Latin, solstice is made of two words: sol– meaning “the sun” and sistere meaning “to make stand.” Winter Solstice is one the most powerful points of the year as the axis of the Earth pauses, shifts and moves in the opposite direction.How do you honor the winter solstice? ›
- MEASURE THE DAYLIGHT. Winter solstice can be a reminder of our connection to the natural world. ...
- MAKE A WREATH. Some holiday traditions, such as hanging mistletoe and wreaths, have roots in pagan solstice rituals. ...
- PREPARE A FEAST. ...
- DINE BY CANDLELIGHT. ...
- BURN A YULE LOG. ...
- CELEBRATE THE LIGHTS.
December 25th is not the date mentioned in the Bible as the day of Jesus's birth; the Bible is actually silent on the day or the time of year when Mary was said to have given birth to him in Bethlehem.What happens to the days after the winter solstice? ›
The December solstice
Meanwhile, all locations north of the equator have day lengths shorter than 12 hours. For us on the northern part of Earth, the shortest day comes at the solstice. After the December solstice, the days will get longer, and the nights shorter.
The reason this happens is that while Earth receives energy from the Sun, it also emits energy into space. And Earth's Northern Hemisphere emits more energy than it receives for nearly 2 months after the winter solstice, which means that temperatures continue to trend downward.What happens to daylight after winter solstice? ›
Between Christmas and New Year's Day, the amount of daylight will increase by four minutes total. After New Year's, the amount of daylight starts to jump more exponentially, going up roughly two minutes a day by the middle of January. By Feb. 20, the average daylight gain is three minutes a day.What is solstice facts for kids? ›
A solstice is a moment in the year when the Sun's apparent path is farthest north or south from Earth's Equator. There are two solstices each year—one in December and one in June. At the solstice, the tilt of Earth toward the Sun is at a maximum angle in one hemisphere and a minimum angle in the other.Does solstice mean the sun doesn't move? ›
Solstice in Latin means "sun standing still." On that day it seems like the sun is standing still because there is more daylight than on any other day. It is the first day of summer and a special day for many groups of people. Many ancient cultures had ceremonies on solstice. They celebrated light and fire.Does winter solstice mean more daylight? ›
The winter solstice is the day of the year that has the least daylight hours of any in the year and usually occurs on 22 June but can occur between 21 and 23 June.What traditions do pagans do on winter solstice? ›
Traditionally, the Yule log was the primary piece of wood used in the fire during the night of the Winter Solstice. Today, many Pagans use a decorative Yule log adorned with ribbons, candles, and other symbols of the season. Another popular version of the Yule log is the dessert version.
The day is still 24 hours long, but the day of the winter solstice sees the least amount of daylight. In Austin, daylight will last only about 10 hours, 11 minutes. The daylight will be 3 hours, 55 minutes shorter than during next year's summer solstice on June 21, 2023.What do you eat on the winter solstice? ›
Traditional winter solstice foods have an emphasis on nature, like nuts, berries, spices, squash, potatoes and meat. Here are some recipes to consider for your family winter solstice celebration this year.What not to do during winter solstice? ›
- Travel. Giphy. This is a hard one because you may want to head home for the holidays, but traveling can be risky because it's such an unlucky day. ...
- Make Big Purchases. Giphy. ...
- Propose. Giphy. ...
- Ask For A Raise. Giphy. ...
- Make Big Life Decisions. Giphy. ...
- Book A Trip. Giphy.
The Pagan celebration of Winter Solstice (also known as Yule) is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world. The celebration of Winter Solstice takes place on the shortest day and longest night of the year.How does the winter solstice affect your mood? ›
So, when there's little daylight in the run-up to the Winter Solstice, our serotonin levels can drop and leave us feeling down. Some people find it harder than others and may even get diagnosed with a psychological condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).What is the winter solstice blessing? ›
Winter Solstice Blessing
That each day forward is blessed with more light. That the cycle of nature, unbroken and true, Brings faith to your soul and well-being to you. Rejoice in the darkness, in the silence find rest.
Around December 21, the Northern Hemisphere tilts the farthest away from the Sun. This is called the northern winter solstice, and it is when we have the least amount of daylight of any time of the year.Is the winter solstice always on the 21st? ›
When exactly does it occur? The solstice usually – but not always – takes place on December 21. The date that the solstice occurs can shift because the solar year (the time it takes for the sun to reappear in the same spot as seen from Earth) doesn't exactly match up to our calendar year.How often does the winter solstice happen? ›
This happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere (Northern and Southern). For that hemisphere, the winter solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky.What exact time is the winter solstice? ›
Winter Solstice, Northern Hemisphere (December)
This corresponds to Wednesday, December 21, 2022 at 21:48 UTC.
For kids that are familiar with the basics, you can explain that the winter solstice marks the exact moment when one of the Earth's poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun. This means that only half of the Earth is maximally distanced from the Sun.What happens to the days in the Northern Hemisphere after the winter solstice? ›
For us on the northern part of Earth, the shortest day comes at the solstice. After the December solstice, the days will get longer, and the nights shorter.How many minutes of daylight do we gain after winter solstice? ›
Between Christmas and New Year's Day, the amount of daylight will increase by four minutes total. After New Year's, the amount of daylight starts to jump more exponentially, going up roughly two minutes a day by the middle of January. By Feb. 20, the average daylight gain is three minutes a day.What are three traditional winter solstice foods? ›
- Pork (reminiscent of wild boar hunts common in northern Europe) or other meats. ...
- Fruit Soup was another winter tradition for some groups. ...
- Grains, nuts, berries or other foods of the late harvests.
- Ginger in the form of gingerbread, cookies or cakes.
- Build a Yule Altar. ...
- Make an Evergreen Yule Wreath. ...
- Burn a Yule Log. ...
- Decorate a Yule Tree. ...
- Exchange Nature-Based Gifts. ...
- Give Back to Nature. ...
- Celebrate in Candlelight. ...
- Set up a Meditation Space.
The reason this happens is that while Earth receives energy from the Sun, it also emits energy into space. And Earth's Northern Hemisphere emits more energy than it receives for nearly 2 months after the winter solstice, which means that temperatures continue to trend downward.Is the winter solstice always on a full moon? ›
How Rare is a Full Moon on the Winter Solstice? The rarity of a solstitial full Moon—the average interval is about 19 years—reinforces the Moon's role as a beacon playing on human history. The next occurrence of a full Moon that rises exactly on the calendar day of the winter solstice is 2094!What part of Earth is darkest at the solstice? ›
The darkest time of year at the North Pole is the Winter Solstice, approximately December 21. There has been no sunlight or even twilight since early October. The darkness lasts until the beginning of dawn in early March.