For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year. It also rings in the first day of the winter season! This special day is coming up on soon, and no matter where you live in the world, the winter solstice is a signal to celebrate.
When is the solstice where I live?
The solstice happens at the same instant for all of us, everywhere on Earth. It’s when the sun on reaches its farthest southward point for the year, and those in the northern part of the globe have their longest night and shortest day. This year, the winter solstice marks the first day of the season as December 21 at 10:44 Universal Time. To find out the time of the solstice where you live, just translate your time zone to UTC
What exactly is a solstice?
In ancient times, the earliest people of Earth noticed that the length of daylight, the sun’s path across the sky, and where the sun rose and set all changed in regular patterns throughout the year. These people built monuments to mark what would become the seasons, and to follow the sun’s yearly progress. A couple of examples of these types of monuments would be Stonehenge in England and Machu Picchu in Peru.
Today, we see the solstice in a different way, and can even see it from outer space, thanks to modern technology. And we now know that the solstice is an astronomical event caused by Earth’s orbit around the sun and its tilt on its axis.
The Earth’s orbit isn’t perfectly upright, but instead at a 23.5-degree tilt, meaning that the two hemispheres of the planet, Northern and Southern, receive the sun’s light and warmth most directly at different times. And the tilt of the Earth, not how far we are from the sun, is what gives us winter or summer. During the winter solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted the farthest from the sun as it will be all year.
Where can you see signs of the winter solstice?
Everywhere! If you live in the northern hemisphere, you’ll notice later dawns in the morning and earlier sunsets in the evening. You might also notice that the sun appears lower in the sky at lunchtime. And be sure to check out your shadow at noon – the time of the winter solstice stretches it to its longest appearance of the year.
What’s the bottom line? Winter is coming!
In 2016, the winter solstice comes on December 21 at 5:44 a.m. EST, marking the first day of winter, as well as the shortest day of the year for those in the Northern Hemisphere. Happy winter, everyone!
Enjoying the Winter Season
So how do we make the most of winter’s short days and long nights? ‘Tis the season for quality time and fun with family and friends, after all! These quick and creative lists of the best wintertime activities will help you to get the good times rolling, right from the first day of our coldest season.
- Build a snowman
- Collect pine cones
- Make paper snowflake cut-outs
- Reread a favorite book in front of the fire
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
- Bake cookies and share them with friends
- Make a pot of mulled wine or spiced cider
- Have a cup (or two) of eggnog
- Bake some cinnamon rolls
- Make a warm, cheesy casserole
The Great Outdoors
- Go ice skating
- Hit the slopes
- Kick back in an outdoor hot tub
The Great Indoors
- Cozy up in front of a roaring fire
- Wear fuzzy slippers at home
- Cuddle up under a snuggly blanket with your special someone
- Shop after-Christmas sales (online, in your PJs)
- Take a long bubble bath
Just for Fun
- Cup a steaming mug in your hands on a cold day
- Breathe in the smell of pine
- Mail a handwritten card to an old friend
- Wear flannel PJs
For the Holidays
- Decorate your home with festive lights
- Build a gingerbread house
- Turn on the all-holiday-all-the-time radio station
- Buy something from a holiday craft fair
- Donate food/toys/clothing to a local charity