Winter Solstice 101

Winter Solstice 101

December 21, 2018

Author: Erin Cline

Happy Winter Solstice!

You may remember our blog post about summer solstice—the longest day of the year—back in June when we were at our maximum tilt toward the sun. Today, on Friday, December 21, 2018, we are at our maximum tilt away from the sun for the shortest day of the year, aka the winter solstice.

Solstices are very science-y so most of us are still kind of in the dark (no pun intended, I swear) about the concept. I’m no scientist, but I’ve read some stuff and I am here to give you a rundown on what’s going on with the winter solstice. clears throat and straightens Bill Nye-esque bowtie

The 2018 winter solstice will strike Phoenix, Arizona (where T&N headquarters is located) this morning at 9:28AM MST (4:28PM UTC). It marks the longest night / shortest day of the year for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere—approximately 90% of the human population. The exact moment of the solstice represents the instant the North Pole is furthest away from the sun on the 23.5 degree tilt of Earth’s axis. To find out the exact time of the winter solstice where you’re located, look it up here. It happens at the same moment for everyone, but time zones determine the time for your specific location. Be sure to check out the Sunrise, Sunset, and Day Length page, too; it’s fascinating to track how the daylight increases by only a few seconds each day in a pattern that shows the intricate consistency of Earth’s rotation.

For all you Phoenicians: on winter solstice day, we will see 9 hours, 56 minutes, and 10 seconds of daylight (compared to 14 hours, 22 minutes, and 16 seconds on summer solstice day).

Interesting things to know about the winter solstice:

  • Some cultures refer to the winter solstice as the “extreme of winter,” which makes sense since it is the furthest into winter the Northern Hemisphere can get before it begins making its way back toward the sun and toward the spring season.
  • Ancient cultures believed the winter solstice was a time of death and rebirth. Early societies faced threats of starvation over the winter months and would hold celebrations and rites to bring back the Sun.
  • One of the oldest religions Zoroastrianism says evil spirits wander the earth and the forces of the destructive spirit Ahriman are strongest on this long night. People are encouraged to stay up through the long night in the company of one another, eating, talking, and sharing poetry and stories, in order to avoid any brushes with dark entities.
  • The modern Druidic celebration Alban Arthan (Welsh for ‘Light of Winter’) reveres the death of the Old Sun and birth of the New Sun who “will bring warmth, light and life back to Earth again.”
  • Six years ago, a lot of creative minds were convinced that the world was going to end on the winter solstice, December 21, 2012, in correspondence with the date in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar used by the ancient Mayans. Many feared it would bring about the end of the world or some other cataclysmic event—there was even a major Hollywood film appropriately titled “2012”about the disasters that would undoubtedly fall upon the earth.

To get ahead of the unnecessary hype, NASA posted this piece on their blog a week before the solstice to make sure everyone knew the end of the world was not coming. On the other hand, the optimists of the bunch looked forward to the day of a new beginning; but unfortunately, it was just another day with a long night. However, the following day, 12/22/12, was full of people showing up to work with brutal hangovers after drinking in the expected rapture that never came.

Really, the winter solstice is just another day, with a little extra night. If you feel like celebrating, the best party to throw is one where you cuddle up under a blanket a little earlier than normal and catch up on your sleep.

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