LEWISTON, MAINE – Despite the feet of snow already falling on many parts of the country, winter 2019 officially begins for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere at 11:19 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21 with the arrival of the winter solstice.
The solstice marks the astronomical moment when the sun reaches the Tropic of Capricorn, and we have our shortest day and longest night of the year in the in terms of daylight. No matter what weather is happening outside your window, this marks the official start of the winter season.
What Does “Solstice” Mean
The term “solstice” comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still) because, during the solstice, the angle between the sun’s rays and the plane of the earth’s equator (called declination) appears to stand still.
What Does That Mean?
Upon the winter solstice, the sun appears at its lowest in the sky, and its noontime elevation seems to stay the same for several days before and after this day. The sun’s gradual decrease in the sky reverses upon the winter solstice, marking what many cultures believe to be a “rebirth” of the sun as the hours of daylight become longer.
Early man kept track of the days by observing the sun as it “moved” across the sky and cast shadows during the day and at different times of the year.
In fact, historians believe Stonehenge in England was erected to keep track of the sun’s yearly progress.
Check your noontime shadow around the time of the solstice: It will be your longest noontime shadow of the year!
The Good News
Essentially, our hours of daylight, the period of time each day between sunrise and sunset, have been growing slightly shorter each day since the summer solstice last June, which is the longest day of the year (at least in terms of daylight). After Dec. 21, the days will begin to grow longer and will continue to do so until we reach the summer solstice again, and begin the whole cycle anew.
Folklore and Celebrations
The winter solstice has played an important role in cultures worldwide from ancient times until today.
Many of the customs, lore, symbols, and rituals associated with Christmas are actually related to winter solstice celebrations of ancient Pagan cultures. Learn more about them at www.farmersalmanac.com/winter-solstice-first-day-winter
Used with permission