When Does the Winter Solstice Occur?

Quck answer

The winter solstice occurs on December 21st or 22nd in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the shortest day and longest night of the year. In the Southern Hemisphere, it falls on June 20th or 21st. This astronomical event happens when the Earth’s axial tilt is farthest away from the sun, resulting in less sunlight and colder temperatures. The winter solstice has been celebrated by various cultures for centuries, symbolizing the rebirth of light and the beginning of longer days. It is an important marker in the annual cycle of seasons and is often associated with festivals and rituals.


Do you sense that coldness in the atmosphere? Does it seem like winter where you reside? Even though many of us associate dropping temperatures with the beginning of winter, the season actually starts at a slightly different time each year.

For most of us, we observe our surroundings for signs of the changing seasons. Freezing temperatures indicate the arrival of winter. Warmer days and the sight of flowers signify the arrival of spring. Sunny, hot days signal the start of summer. Cooler days and falling leaves inform us when autumn is approaching.

However, for scientists, there are specific scientific phenomena that they use to determine the official start of each season. When it comes to winter, that season begins in the Northern Hemisphere on the winter solstice, also known as the December solstice. In the Southern Hemisphere, the December solstice is referred to as the summer solstice, as it marks the beginning of summer there.

The winter solstice marks the moment when the North Pole is tilted at its farthest angle (23.5 degrees) away from the Sun. Due to the variation in the exact time of this event, which depends on the Earth’s rotation on its axis, its revolution around the Sun, and the insertion of leap days into the calendar, the winter solstice occurs sometime between December 20 and December 23 each year.

In general, solstices on December 21 or 22 occur more frequently than solstices on December 20 or 23. The next December 20 solstice will not take place until 2052, and you will have to live until 2303 to witness the next December 23 solstice!

In 2019, the winter solstice will happen on December 22 at 4:49 universal time. If you reside in the United States, this means that the winter solstice will occur on Monday, December 21 at 11:49pm Eastern Standard Time.

In addition to marking the start of winter, the winter solstice also represents the shortest day of the year. On the day of the winter solstice, the Northern Hemisphere experiences the fewest hours of daylight compared to any other day of the year. On the positive side, each day thereafter will have a little more sunlight. On the negative side, the coldest days of the year are yet to come.

After the winter solstice, the amount of daylight gradually increases each day as the Sun follows a higher and longer path through the southern sky. This continues for approximately six months until the summer solstice occurs, after which the days begin to shorten again.

Despite the increasing daylight, it takes some time for oceans to warm up. Additionally, the Northern Hemisphere continues to lose more heat than it gains for several more weeks. This is why the coldest temperatures are still to come after the winter solstice before things begin to warm up towards spring.

Give It a Try

Do you feel a chill in the air? Bundle up and explore the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • Did you know that the celebration of the Winter Solstice has been a tradition for thousands of years? Explore Holidays and Traditions around the December solstice to discover more about these ancient customs!
  • If the Winter Solstice signifies the shortest day of the year, it’s important to make the most of every moment of sunlight. Gather a few friends and family members who are willing to spend time outdoors with you, enjoying the precious few minutes of sunlight on this day. Despite the cold weather, there are plenty of enjoyable activities you can engage in to fully embrace the daylight! Can you think of any fun ideas?
  • Do you enjoy experiencing the changing seasons? Or would you prefer to live in a place where the weather remains the same every day? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each situation? Would it depend on whether it was always sunny or always snowy? Write a brief essay expressing your perspective on seasons. Share it with a friend or family member and see if they agree with your viewpoint. If not, why do they hold a different opinion?

Wonder Sources

  • http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/astronomy/WinterSolstice.html (accessed on Dec 18, 2019)
  • https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2014/12/21/winter-begins-today-five-questions-and-answers-about-the-solstice/ (accessed on Dec 18, 2019)
  • http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/december-solstice.html (accessed on Dec 18, 2019)

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