Winter is here: 7 facts you need to know about the winter solstice

Winter is here: 7 facts you need to know about the winter solstice

The Northern Hemisphere will see the shortest day and the longest night on December 21

The darkest day of the year is almost upon us.

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

December solstice marks the astronomical beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere where the Earth's tilt is the reason to celebrate this season. Our big blue planet has a rough tilt of 23.5 degrees, as it orbits the sun causing the Northern and Southern Hemisphere to experience winter at different times of the year. 

When one hemisphere experiences the soaking heat of the summer solstice, the other sees the dark and calculating cold of the winter solstice.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

While the damp temperatures may make you believe otherwise, our planet is closest to the sun during the winter solstice in December and farthest from it during the summer solstice in June.

Whether you love the winter or you're someone who can't stand the cold, here are 10 things to take note of — or even admire — about the winter solstice.

1. A 'sun standing still'

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Derived from the Latin word, solstitium, the sun is said to have reached its southernmost position, as seen from the Earth. This causes the sun to appear in a stand-still position during the days surrounding the solstice, before gradually reversing its direction. Owing to the very meaning, the phenomenon sure is fitting.

2. A brief moment in time

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That brief moment of time, when the sun shines directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, is when the winter solstice occurs. Contrary to popular belief, it is not an event that takes place on a specific day but at a specific time of the day! Safe to say, regardless of where you stay, the solstice happens at the same moment for everyone on this planet.

3. Ancient cultures celebrated the solstice

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The winter solstice was welcomed with high regards in ancient times and was pretty much of a big deal back in the day. Around this time, midwinter, the cattle were slaughtered so feeding the animals was not something to be worried about. The beer and wine previously made have finally fermented this season and the days are marked with solstice celebrations.

A popular festival celebrated across by Scandinavian and Germanic groups, called the Yule, is a symbolic dedication to the reawakening of nature and welcoming of the new light.

4. The Stonehenge is aligned to the sunset during the winter solstice

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The megalithic monument which has piqued the interest and curiosity of historians and archaeologists since centuries now is oriented towards the direction of the setting sun. While some may argue that the position of the sun was of major religious significance to the people who built the Stonehenge, others feel it is a mere coincidence constructed alongside the natural phenomena occurring around it. A strong possibility, though, does hold good that the prehistoric monument was used to mark solstices and equinoxes.

The importance of the Stonehenge during the winter solstice has been carried forward into the modern era with hippies, pagans and other enthusiasts visiting every year to celebrate the day.

Apart from this, Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland and Maeshowe situated on Mainland, Orkney, Scotland are famously known to perfectly align with the rising sun.

5. The discovery of newer, stranger worlds

Source: Wikipedia

A lot went down in history on December 21st. With the Mayflower Pilgrims' arrival at Plymouth, Massachusetts, forming the permanent settlement of a society in 1620, to the discovery of radium by Pierre and Marie Curie in 1898. In 1968, the Apollo 8 launched, marking the first manned mission to the moon.

6. The coldest day of the year? Not really.

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

During the solstice, it is true that the Northern Hemisphere receives least direct sunlight, but that doesn't essentially mean the temperatures will dip. Colder days are yet to come—around January mostly—depending mostly on where you live.

7. The darkest day has nothing to do with the Earth's distance from the sun

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Contrary to what is otherwise believed, our planet is actually the closest to the sun during the winter solstice. Yes! You heard that right. The reason for the darkness is purely caused due to the tilt of the planet away from the sun.

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