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May 30, 2023

Winter Solstice Facts

The Winter Solstice has astronomical, cultural, and religious significance.

Most people count the whole day as the December Solstice. However, the solstice is actually at a specific moment – when the Sun is exactly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn.

In 2022, the December Solstice is on December 21, at 1:48 PST.

December solstice illustration
  • Solstices happen twice a year—once around June 21 and then again around December 21. On the June solstice, the Sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer (latitude 23° 30′ North) in the Northern Hemisphere, while on the December solstice, the Sun shines directly over the Tropic of Capricorn (latitude 23° 30′ South) in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • The December Solstice can happen on December 20, 21, 22, or 23, though December 20 or 23 solstices are rare. The last December 23 solstice was in 1903 and will not happen again until 2303.
  • The term solstice comes from the Latin word solstitium, meaning ‘the Sun stands still.’ This is because on this day, the Sun reaches its southern-most position as seen from the Earth. The Sun seems to stand still at the Tropic of Capricorn and then reverses its direction. It’s also common to call it the day the Sun turns around.

Winter is often mistaken for the time of the year when we go into darkness. But Autumn is the season when we dive further into the darkness. At the fall equinox, it’s as if the lights get turned out after a bright summer. All of a sudden, we get sleepier sooner in the evening.

The days get shorter and shorter, darker and darker until we reach Winter Solstice. On this day in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day of sunlight, we hit bottom and, from here, bounce back up into the light. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and flips the light switch in the other direction—from light to descending into darker days (yep, each day of summer is declining in light).

The Winter Solstice is the celebration of coming INTO THE LIGHT—a rebirth. This is the day the New Year calendar begins for many indigenous cultures because it is NATURE’S NEW YEAR. A starting over, a beginning—rebuilding in light and energy. Our body rhythms respond in synchronicity with nature’s light signals.

Because of this (for us humans), winter ends up being more about anticipating spring because of the cold and darkness. Rather than sleeping more, we begin to wake up and slowly stir. Throughout the day, we get busier and busier as we get closer to the spring equinox.

Watch for it. You’ll see.

Each day from now until the summer solstice in June, we will pick up, on average, 2 minutes of sunlight each day. By the time we reach the summer solstice, we will have added six more hours of daylight!

Winter Solstice, Northern Hemisphere (December 21)

North America, Europe, most of Asia, Northern Africa

World map showing the Northern Hemisphere highlighted above the line marking the Equator.

In Klamath Falls, Oregon, USA: Wednesday, December 21, 2022 at 1:48 pm PST (Change location)
This corresponds to Wednesday, December 21, 2022 at 21:48 UTC.

Although winter seems to be the season of dormancy, darkness, and cold, the December Solstice marks the “turning of the Sun” and the days slowly get longer. Celebrations of the lighter days to come and nature’s continuing cycle have been common throughout cultures and history with all the feasts, festivals, and holidays around December Solstice time that take place. The Winter Solstice is the Reason for the Season!


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