The Long (And Short) Of The Winter Solstice

Does The Winter Solstice Date Change? 2017's Happens To Be Falling On The Unluckiest Day Of The Year Kevin Frayer  Getty Images News  Getty Images

Today, on December 21, the shortest day of the year, a narrow beam of sunlight penetrates the roof-box of the prehistoric monument, which is aligned with the rising sun of the winter solstice.

What is the winter solstice, and why do we have it?

December 21 is the shortest day of the year above the Earth's equator and the longest Down Under. But the axis isn't quite perpendicular to the path of its orbit, instead it is tilted on its side about 23 degrees, with the axis always pointing the same way into space.

Keep in mind that, just because this is the shortest day of the year, doesn't mean the sunrise and sunset are at their latest and earliest times. That time this year is at 4:28 PM Universal Time, or 9:28 PM Eastern time on Thursday. The day is also the summer solstice, or longest day of the year, in the southern hemisphere.

Contrary to popular belief, the winter solstice isn't the earliest sunset of the year. Astronomers maintain that winter solstice marks the end of autumn and the start of winter. For a complete listing of the dates of the winter and summer solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes through 2025, check out this calendar from the U.S.


Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day, December 25th, when we decorate our homes and communities with lights and stars to welcome the birth of the "true light of the world".

"It's an ad hoc celebration that brings together England's New Age Tribes (neo-druids, neo-pagans, Wiccans) with ordinary families, tourists, travelers and party people - 100's of them!"

The amount of daylight you'll see on the solstice depends on your latitude, or distance from the equator. But the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun and receives less solar energy.

Winter solstice has been celebrated for hundreds of years in Britain, pre-dating Christianity.

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