August 8, 2022
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(CNN) — For the previous six months, the days have grown shorter and the nights have grown longer in the Northern Hemisphere. However that’s about to reverse itself.

Winter solstice 2021, the shortest day of yr and the official first day of winter, is on Tuesday, December 21. How it all works has fascinated individuals for hundreds of years.

First we’ll have a look at the science and exact timing behind the solstice. Then we’ll discover some historical traditions and celebrations round the world.

The science and timing behind a winter solstice

The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the yr in the Northern Hemisphere, when the solar seems at its most southerly place, straight overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn.

The state of affairs is the reverse in the Southern Hemisphere. There, the December solstice marks the longest day of the yr — and the starting of summer time in locations comparable to Australia, Chile and South Africa.

These three photos from NOAA’s GOES East (GOES-16) satellite tv for pc present us what Earth seems like from house close to the winter solstice. The pictures have been captured about 24 hours earlier than the 2018 winter solstice.


When precisely does it happen?

The solstice normally — however not all the time — takes place on December 21. The time that the solstice happens shifts yearly as a result of the photo voltaic yr (the time it takes for the solar to reappear in the identical spot as seen from Earth) doesn’t precisely match as much as our calendar yr.

If you wish to be super-precise in your observations (and who doesn’t wish to be?), the precise time of the 2021 winter solstice will likely be 15:59 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on Tuesday, in response to and Farmers’ Almanac. That’s nearly six hours later than final yr’s time.

A employee makes use of a blower to clear snow from a courtyard at Gyeongbokgung Palace in central Seoul on December 13, 2020.

ED JONES/AFP/AFP through Getty Pictures

Listed here are some examples of when 15:59 UTC will likely be for numerous native instances in locations round the world. As a result of of time zone variations, the solstice will technically fall on Wednesday in components of East Asia.

— Seoul: 12:59 a.m. Wednesday
— Bangkok: 11:59 p.m. Tuesday
— Qatar: 6:59 p.m. Tuesday
— Milan, Italy: 4:59 p.m. Tuesday
— Orlando, Florida: 10:59 a.m. Tuesday
— Calgary, Canada: 8:59 a.m. Tuesday
— Honolulu: 5:59 a.m. Tuesday

What locations see and really feel the results of the winter solstice the most?

Daylight decreases dramatically the nearer you’re to the North Pole on December 21.

Folks in balmy Singapore, simply 137 kilometers or 85 miles north of the equator, barely discover the distinction, with simply 9 much less minutes of daylight than they’ve throughout the summer time solstice.
A lot larger in latitude, Madrid, Spain, nonetheless logs in a decent 9 hours and 17 minutes of daylight throughout the winter solstice.

Folks take benefit of the transient daylight in Helsinki, Finland, on December 20, 2020.

Alessandro Rampazzo/Anadolu Company/Getty Pictures

The distinction is extra stark in frigid Helsinki, Finland, the place the solar will rise at 9:23 a.m. and set at 3:12 p.m., leading to lower than six hours of anemic daylight. It’s a whopping 13 hours and seven minutes much less daylight than these Finns get throughout the June summer time solstice.
Residents of Nome, Alaska, will likely be much more daylight disadvantaged with simply three hours, 54 minutes and 31 seconds of very weak daylight on Tuesday. However that’s downright beneficiant in contrast with Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. It sits inside the Arctic Circle and gained’t see a single ray of sunshine.

What causes the winter solstice to even occur?

As a result of the Earth is tilted on its rotational axis, we expertise seasons right here on Earth. As the Earth strikes round the solar, every hemisphere experiences winter when it’s tilted away from the solar and summer time when it’s tilted towards the solar.

Wait. Why is the Earth tilted?

Scientists usually are not fully certain how this occurred, however they assume that billions of years in the past, as the photo voltaic system was taking form, the Earth was topic to violent collisions that induced the axis to tilt.

What different seasonal transitions do we mark?

The equinoxes, each spring and fall, happen when the solar’s rays are straight over the equator. On these two days, everybody has an equal size of day and night time. The summer time solstice is when the solar’s rays are farthest north over the Tropic of Most cancers, giving us our longest day and the official begin of summer time in the Northern Hemisphere.

Winter solstice traditions and celebrations

Adorned evergreen timber have roots that return past the beginnings of Christianity to historical Egypt and Rome. The well-known Rockefeller tree in New York was illuminated for the 2021 season on December 1.

Ed Jones/AFP through Getty Pictures

It’s no shock many cultures and religions celebrate a vacation — whether or not it be Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or pagan festivals — that coincides with the return of longer days.

Historical peoples whose survival relied on a exact data of seasonal cycles marked this first day of winter with elaborate ceremonies and celebrations. Spiritually, these celebrations symbolize the alternative for renewal, a shedding of dangerous habits and unfavorable emotions and an embracing of hope amid darkness as the days as soon as once more start to develop longer.

Many of the historical symbols and ceremonies of the winter solstice stay on as we speak or have been integrated into newer traditions. Listed here are just some of them:

Alban Arthan

In the Welsh language, “Alban Arthan” means for “Gentle of Winter,” in response to the Farmers’ Almanac. It is likely to be the oldest seasonal pageant of humankind. Half of Druidic traditions, the winter solstice is taken into account a time of demise and rebirth.


In Historical Rome, Saturnalia started on December 17 and lasted for seven days. It honored Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture. The individuals loved carnival-like festivities resembling modern Mardi Gras celebrations and even delayed their war-making. Saturnalia continued into the third and fourth centuries AD.

As the Roman Empire got here below Christian affect and eventual rule, some of the pageant’s customs have been melded into celebrations surrounding Christmas and the New Yr.


It’s not simply historical Europeans who marked the annual event. The Dongzhi Winter Solstice Competition has its roots in historical Chinese language tradition. The identify interprets roughly as “excessive of winter.”

They thought this was the apex of yin (from Chinese language drugs idea). Yin represents darkness and chilly and stillness, thus the longest day of winter. Dongzhi marks the return yang — and the sluggish ascendance of gentle and heat. Dumplings are normally eaten to celebrate in some East Asian cultures.

Celebrations in the age of Covid

Many locations round the world historically maintain festivals that honor the winter solstice. However as a result of of the ongoing pandemic now stretching right into a second winter solstice, occasions could also be canceled once more or altered to permit for a secure, socially distanced event.

Montol Competition

Higher identified for pirates than the solstice, the city of Penzance on the southwest coast of England revived the pleasant custom of a Cornish processional. Shut down in 2020, it’s again on in 2021. Occasion organizers ask individuals to get examined earlier than attending, according to the festival’s Facebook page.

Oh, the glories of prepandemic instances! A choir sings at Stonehenge to mark the winter solstice earlier than phrases comparable to Covid and Omicron joined on a regular basis vocabulary.

Ben Birchall /PA Pictures/Getty Pictures


The UK’s most well-known website for solstice celebrations is Stonehenge. On the winter solstice, guests historically have had alternative to enter the towering, mysterious stone circle for a dawn ceremony run by native pagan and druid teams.
The in-person dawn gathering was canceled in 2020, however it is being held this yr. The English Heritage Society cautions that could possibly be topic to vary relying on the most up-to-date well being tips as the Omicron variant continues to quickly unfold. Face masks are obligatory, and testing is inspired.
The society has set it up so you can livestream the dawn at Stonehenge from the toasty consolation of dwelling.

Lantern Competition

In Canada, Vancouver’s Winter Solstice Lantern Festival is a glowing celebration of solstice traditions from round the world. Historically, the Secret Lantern Society assembles a wide selection of music, dance, meals and spectacular lantern-lit processions.

For 2020, the pageant was a video-only affair. This yr, they’re easing again in with in-person, however scaled-down, neighborhood occasions. Livestreaming will nonetheless be an choice in 2021.

CNN’s Katia Hetter and Autumn Spanne contributed to this text.

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