With the winter solstice coming up, it might be time to brush up on a few facts about the day with the shortest amount of sunlight all year. Today, winter solstice is made note of but then quickly forgotten, but that hasn’t always been the case. It has been an important event in many cultures. Without further ado, then, let’s shed some light on winter solstice.
When is it, actually?
The date for the winter solstice changes from year to year. It could be December 20, 21, 22, or 23. And winter solstice is actually a point in time, not the whole day. The winter solstice marks the point when the sun reaches its southernmost point in the sky, directly above the Tropic of Capricorn.
A descriptive name
The name comes from Latin: sol, meaning sun, and stice, meaning stand still. Those, of course, combine to mean the sun is standing still. It makes sense, because the sun does appear to stand still while at its southernmost point. Winter solstice goes by other names as well, such as midwinter, yule, or the longest night.
Shortest day but not earliest sunset
This fact is a head-scratcher. Although winter solstice is the day with the least hours of daylight in the year, it’s not the day with the earliest sunset. That’s because solar time is calculated somewhat differently than how time with clocks is measured. The earliest sunset of the year occurs during the second week of December.
It’s also not the coldest day
Strangely, winter solstice is also not usually the coldest day of the year. Even though winter solstice has the fewest hours of sunlight, the coldest day is usually in January.
Stonehenge and the winter solstice
Winter and summer solstices might be the key to the mystery of Stonehenge. Recent excavations have shown that Stonehenge was built on the solstice axis, or ridges that point straight toward midwinter sunset in one direction and point to midsummer sunrise in the other. People gather to celebrate winter solstice at Stonehenge every year.
Mayan apocalypse predicted on winter solstice 2012
Thousands of people thought the world might end on winter solstice in 2012. It was the end of the Mayan “long count” calendar, and many thought that was because it predicted the apocalypse. Maybe the Mayans knew something we didn’t. The world didn’t end, of course, but winter solstice was apparently an important date for the Mayans.
Winter solstice holidays throughout time
Winter solstice was a big holiday for people throughout the ages. Germanic and Scandinavian groups in northern Europe called it “Yule.” In ancient Rome, the festival Saturnalia, which honored Saturn, fell on the winter solstice.