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Winter Solstice is coming. Are you looking forward to it? It’s coming up on Thursday, Dec. 21, this year. You probably already know that the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. Today, I’ve got some more facts about this incredible event that may surprise you.
What Is the Winter Solstice?
When the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, it is wintertime for us. The winter solstice occurs on the day when the North Pole is tilted farthest away from the sun. This solstice almost always occurs on either Dec. 21 or 22.
Nature and the Winter Solstice
The decrease in daylight hours is a signal to animals to consume and store more food so they can survive the cold weather. For instance, birds must forage as much as they can while the sun is out, so they have enough energy to survive the freezing cold nights. The arrival of the winter solstice always reminds me to buy a supply of birdseed for the cardinals, robins, and other birds that visit my bird feeders. Our birds sometimes need a little help staying warm at this time of year! Squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, and other small animals continue to develop their fur coats in response to the colder temperatures and decrease in daylight. Many plants and trees go dormant to protect themselves from the lack of sunlight and the cold temperatures.
Celebrations of the Winter Solstice
In ancient Rome, the celebration of Saturnalia took place around the time of the winter solstice. It honored Saturn, the god of agriculture. Feasts, dancing, and singing were all a part of the celebration. Today, the winter solstice is celebrated around the globe by many cultures with parties, special food, and drinks. In northern Arizona, the Hopi celebrate the winter solstice with a purification ritual, gift-giving, and dancing. This celebration, called Soyal, welcomes protective spirits called kachinas. During the Dongzhi Festival in China, families celebrate the winter solstice with special foods like tang yuan and lamb dumplings.
Interesting Facts About the Winter Solstice
- The word “solstice” comes from the Latin word “solstitium,” which means “point when the sun seems to stands still.”
- The winter solstice happens in June in the Southern Hemisphere.
- The winter solstice doesn’t last for the whole day: Instead, it happens at a specific time. For instance, it will happen at 11:28 a.m. Eastern time on Dec. 21 this year.
- The winter solstice is sometimes called the beginning of astronomical winter. The meteorological winter starts three weeks ahead of the solstice.
- There are only about nine hours of daylight a day at this time of year.
- The time of the winter solstice is marked by the low arc of the sun, early sunsets, and late dawns.
- On the winter solstice, the sun reaches a position right above the Tropic of Capricorn.
Be sure to check out your shadow on the pavement at noon around the time of the solstice. You’ll find that you cast a very long shadow! Let’s all take some time to appreciate the beauty in the change of seasons.