The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, as the tilt of the Earth means it has the fewest daylight hours. Not only is it the shortest day, but for astronomers, it marks the beginning of winter. Here’s everything you need to know about the winter solstice this year, including key timings and celebrations.
The winter solstice happens twice each year, once in the Southern Hemisphere and then in the Northern Hemisphere.
Often regarded as the beginning of winter, the winter solstice occurs
when the Earth’s axis rotates, so either of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun.
For each hemisphere, the winter solstice is thought to be the first day of the astronomical winter season.
The day is also known as midwinter, as the days lengthen after it has passed.
When is the winter solstice 2021?
In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice will fall on Tuesday, December 21 this year.
Due to the tilt of the Earth, this date is when the Southern Hemisphere marks its summer solstice.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the winter solstice occurred on June 20.
For the Northern Hemisphere, December 21 is the most common date for the solstice, although it does fall on December 22 every few years.
The last time it fell on December 22 was back in 2019.
The solstice will last for just seven hours, 49 minutes and 42 seconds in London this year according to the Royal Observatory.
The Sun is expected to rise at 8.03am and it will set at 3.53pm in London.
The Royal Observatory said the actual moment of the solstice will occur at 3.59pm this year.
Who celebrates the winter solstice?
The winter solstice is celebrated across the globe by many different cultures.
However, both the summer and winter solstices have become synonymous with paganism.
In the UK, many gather around Stonehenge to mark these solstices as the stones have become central to British paganism.
When is the summer solstice?
The summer solstice, in contrast to the winter solstice, marks the longest day of the year and the first day of summer under the astronomical calendar.
For the Northern Hemisphere, the next summer solstice will fall on June 21, 2022 – when the winter solstice will be marked in the Southern Hemisphere.
As explained above, the summer solstice for the Southern Hemisphere will fall on December 21.
What does “solstice” mean?
The word “solstice” has Latin origins, it comes from the word solstitium, which translates to “Sun stands still.”
This is because at the solstices the sun appears to “stand still,” as the seasonal movement of the Sun’s daily path (as seen from Earth) seems to stop at a northern or southern limit before changing direction.