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Winter Solstice; the First Day of Winter

winter solsticeThe winter solstice heralds the beginning of the winter season.

The winter solstice takes place on December 21, 2014.  This day follows the Gregorian calendar, so the date ranges from December 20th through the 23rd.   It’s the one day that marks the least hours of sunlight during the calendar year.  If you live in the northern hemisphere, north of the equator, then you know what I’m referring to.  However, if you live in the southern hemisphere, the complete opposite occurs.  People in the southern hemisphere will be celebrating the longest day of the year.

The Earth’s axis tilts about 23.5 degrees.  In the summer that’s great for us because more sunlight is directed toward the northern points (Tropic of Cancer) on the Earth.  See my article on the summer solstice.  However, during the winter solstice, less sunlight is directed toward the northern points.  The northern hemisphere is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun.  The winter solstice happens to be the point in that moment of time that the length of darkness in a day is the longest.  Don’t forget that in the Southern Hemisphere they experience the complete opposite.

Less direct sunlight results in colder temperatures and shorter days.

More direct sunlight results in warmer temperatures and longer days.

winter solstice

Fun facts about the winter solstice:

1.  Between the summer and winter solstices are the spring (vernal) and fall (autumnal) equinoxes.  The Earth’s axis may be at a 23.5 degree tilt, but at this time a year it’s negligible.  The tilt of the earth is perpendicular to the sun, not directed towards or away.  Sun light hits the Northern and Southern Hemisphere equally.  This is the reason why we have four seasons.

2.  The winter solstice is celebrated by numerous cultures worldwide.  Some Northern European countries would have festivals and rituals called “Midwinter celebrations”.  To shed light and hope during the darkest time of year since there was always uncertainty that food supplies would last through winter months.  The winter solstice was seen as a turning point among many cultures; the end of the yearly cycle.  People would reflect on the past and hope for the future.

3.  The coldest days of the year usually comes about a month later.  This lag in temperature is due to the earth’s surface.  The oceans take longer to cool down, so even as the days are getting lighter the Earth continues to lose more energy than it receives from the sun.   It’s the same for the summer solstice when we experience the hottest weather in August.

4.  During the winter solstice the sun is at its most southern point which is directly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn.  The Arctic Circle (North Pole) experiences 24 hours of darkness while the Antarctic Circle (South Pole) experiences 24 hours of sunlight.

All photos courtesy of David Brown.



Webpage References:

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Winter Solstice; the First Day of Winter
The winter solstice heralds the beginning of the winter season. It’s the one day with the most hours of darkness in the calendar year.
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  1. Very informative post…thanks Lew!

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