Congratulations Canada, you made it. The winter solstice is finally here… and with it, the fewest hours of daylight in any day of the year.
Now, before you get too gloomy about the cold and the darkness, keep in mind there’s a silver lining. Every day from here on in gets a little bit longer.
To tide you over until the next sunrise, here are five things you may not know about the winter solstice.
When is it?
In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice falls on the 21st or 22nd of December each year. The moment of Solstice occurs at the same time everywhere on earth, here in B.C. it takes place tonight at 8:49 PST.
What exactly is it?
The Solstice is an effect of the Earth being tilted on its axis. As the Earth makes its annual trek around the sun, the Northern pole is gradually exposed to less sunlight, creating winter. Our winter solstice marks the point at which the North Pole is farthest from the sun, creating the earliest sunset and the shortest day of the year.
There are actually two winter solstices
Because of the Earth’s tilt, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere is also the longest day of the year in the Southern Hemisphere.
So while it is winter solstice here in Canada, Australia is having it’s Summer Solstice. In the same way, the Southern Hemisphere experiences its winter solstice in June.
During the winter solstice, the Earth’s axial tilt means in areas above the polar circle, the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon at any point in a 24-hour period, creating a ‘polar night.’
At the North Pole, the polar night actually lasts for months, but at Solstice the long night can be experienced anywhere above the Arctic Circle.
This is the same phenomenon responsible for the famous ‘midnight sun’ in the summer, when the pole is tilted towards the solar centre, and the sun doesn’t dip below the horizon.
Stonehenge, for example, is aligned on the sight line of the winter solstice sunset, and pagan Scandinavians celebrated a midwinter festival called Yule.
Ancient Romans celebrated the festival of Saturnalia during the week around Solstice, and it is widely theorized the date for Christmas was chosen to take advantage of existing pre-Christian celebrations.