9:00 AM 20th December 2019
Winter Solstice - The Shortest Day And The Longest NightWhen is it?
The date of the winter solstice is different each year and can fall anywhere between 20 December and 23 December. In 2019 it will be on Sunday 22 December in the northern hemisphere.
What is it?
The winter solstice is also known as midwinter and is an astronomical phenomenon marking the day with the shortest period of daylight with the sun at its lowest in the sky. It occurs when one of the Earth's poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun. It happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere.
Winter sun - photo by Andrew Foster
The word 'solstice' comes from the Latin solstitium meaning 'sun stands still' because the apparent movement of the sun's path north or south stops before changing direction.
Solstices are opposite on either side of the equator, so the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere is the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere and vice versa.
Who celebrates it?
Sunset over Stonehenge - photo by Myke Lyons
The druids are associated with the solstices and mark the start of the solar year with a celebration of light and the rebirth of the sun.
The purpose of Stonehenge is still subject to debate, but its importance on the winter solstice continues into the modern era, as thousands of people gather there every year to celebrate the occasion. Stonehenge has been a prehistoric site of worship and celebration for thousands of years.
Stonehenge is now a World Heritage Site. The Heel Stone which is the largest stone at Stonehenge weighs about 30 tons. It is said that the giant stones of Stonehenge were so positioned to align with the midwinter sunset at the winter solstice and the midsummer sunrise at the summer solstice.