Winter solstice 2020: The shortest day is long on ancient traditions

(CNN) — For 6 months, the times have grown shorter and the nights have grown more time in the Northern Hemisphere. But that’s about to reverse alone.

Wintertime solstice 2020, the shortest working day of yr and the formal get started of winter, is on Monday, December 21. How it all is effective has fascinated men and women for thousands of several years.

Initially we’ll appear at the science and specific timing driving the solstice. Then we will discover some historic traditions and celebrations close to the planet (though many of 2020’s celebrations are staying canceled or modified for the pandemic). At last, we are going to understand about a delightful display in the heavens unique for winter solstice 2020.

The science and timing at the rear of a winter season solstice

The wintertime solstice marks the shortest working day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, when the solar seems at its most southerly posture, specifically overhead at the faraway Tropic of Capricorn.

The circumstance is the reverse in the Southern Hemisphere. There, the December solstice marks the longest day of the year — and the commencing of summer season in areas this sort of as Argentina, Australia and South Africa.

These 3 images from NOAA’s GOES East (GOES-16) satellite demonstrate us what Earth seems like from space near the wintertime solstice. The photos had been captured about 24 hrs in advance of the 2018 wintertime solstice.


When particularly does it occur?

The solstice ordinarily — but not often — normally takes area on December 21. The time that the solstice takes place and the day alone shifts simply because the solar calendar year (the time it will take for the sunlight to reappear in the similar place as observed from Earth) does not particularly match up to our calendar 12 months.

— Tokyo: 7:02 p.m. Monday
— Bangkok: 5:02 p.m. Monday
— Dubai: 2:02 p.m. Monday
— Rome: 11:02 a.m. Monday
— Casablanca, Morocco: 10:02 a.m. Monday (exact same as UTC)
— Boston: 5:02 a.m. Monday
— Vancouver: 2:02 a.m. Monday
— Honolulu: 12:02 a.m. Monday

What areas see and come to feel the effects of the winter season solstice the most?

Daylight decreases significantly the nearer you are to the North Pole on December 21.

People in balmy Singapore, just 137 kilometers or 85 miles north of the equator, scarcely recognize the variation, with just 9 significantly less minutes of daylight than they have in the course of the summer solstice.
Substantially greater in latitude, Madrid, Spain, still logs in a respectable nine several hours and 17 minutes of daylight for the duration of the winter season solstice.
The House of the Books (Singer House) on Nevsky Avenue in St. Petersburg, Russia, is lit up electrically. Sunshine is in scarce supply here in the days leading up to winter solstice.

The Property of the Textbooks (Singer Residence) on Nevsky Avenue in St. Petersburg, Russia, is lit up electrically. Sunshine is in scarce offer right here in the times foremost up to winter season solstice.

Alexander Demianchuk/TASS/Getty Pictures

The variation is much more stark in frigid St. Petersburg, Russia, exactly where the solar will increase at 10 a.m. and established at 3:53 p.m. resulting in fewer than 6 several hours of anemic daylight.
Inhabitants of Nome, Alaska, will be even far more sunlight deprived with just three hrs, 54 minutes and 33 seconds of really weak daylight. But which is downright generous as opposed with Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. It sits inside of the Arctic Circle and won’t see a one ray of daylight.

What results in the wintertime solstice to even materialize?

Because the Earth is tilted on its rotational axis, we encounter seasons here on Earth. As the Earth moves about the sun, each and every hemisphere activities winter season when it is tilted absent from the sun and summer months when it is tilted toward the sunshine.

Wait. Why is the Earth tilted?

Researchers are not totally certain how this transpired, but they imagine that billions of a long time ago, as the photo voltaic program was taking shape, the Earth was subject to violent collisions that prompted the axis to tilt.

What other seasonal transitions do we mark?

The equinoxes, the two spring and slide, take place when the sun’s rays are straight around the equator. On these two days, everyone has an equal size of working day and night. The summer season solstice is when the sun’s rays are farthest north over the Tropic of Most cancers, providing us our longest day and the formal get started of summertime in the Northern Hemisphere.

Winter solstice traditions and celebrations

Decorated evergreen trees have roots that go back beyond the beginnings of Christianity to ancient Egypt and Rome.

Embellished evergreen trees have roots that go back past the beginnings of Christianity to historic Egypt and Rome.


It truly is no shock many cultures and religions celebrate a holiday getaway — whether or not it be Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or pagan festivals — that coincides with the return of lengthier times.

Historic peoples whose survival depended on a precise understanding of seasonal cycles marked this to start with working day of winter season with elaborate ceremonies and celebrations. Spiritually, these celebrations symbolize the chance for renewal, a shedding of terrible routines and negative emotions and an embracing of hope amid darkness as the days when yet again start to improve extended.

A lot of of the historical symbols and ceremonies of the winter season solstice reside on currently or have been included into more recent traditions. In this article are just a few of them:

Alban Arthan

In the Welsh language, “Alban Arthan” implies for “Mild of Winter,” in accordance to the Farmers Almanac. It may possibly be the oldest seasonal pageant of humankind. Section of Druidic traditions, the winter solstice is deemed a time of death and rebirth.


In Historic Rome, Saturnalia began on December 17 and lasted for seven days. It honored Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture. The persons relished carnival-like festivities resembling modern-day Mardi Gras celebrations and even delayed their war-earning. Saturnalia ongoing into the 3rd and fourth hundreds of years Advert.

As the Roman Empire came beneath Christian impact and eventual rule, some of the festival’s customs have been melded into celebrations encompassing Christmas and the New 12 months.


It’s not just historical Europeans who marked the annual occasion. The Dongzhi Winter season Solstice Festival has its roots in historic Chinese society. The title translates around as “extreme of winter season.”

They imagined this was the apex of yin (from Chinese drugs principle). Yin signifies darkness and chilly and stillness, consequently the longest working day of winter season. Dongzhi marks the return yang — and the gradual ascendance of light and warmth. Dumplings are ordinarily eaten to rejoice in some East Asian cultures.

Cancellations and modified celebrations

Numerous spots all-around the earth hold festivals that honor the winter season solstice. But since of the Covid-19 pandemic, they have either been canceled for 2020 or altered to allow for a safe and sound, socially-distanced celebration.

Montol Competition

Improved acknowledged for pirates than the solstice, the town of Penzance on the southwest coastline of England revived a delightful array of Cornish solstice situations foremost up to wintertime solstice. They have canceled situations for 2020 but hope to resume in 2021, according to the festival’s Fb page.
A choir sings at Stonehenge to mark the winter solstice. In-person visits are canceled for 2020, however.

A choir sings at Stonehenge to mark the winter solstice. In-human being visits are canceled for 2020, even so.

Ben Birchall /PA Images/Getty Photos


The UK’s most well known internet site for solstice celebrations is Stonehenge. On the wintertime solstice, visitors typically have had possibility to enter the towering, mysterious stone circle for a sunrise ceremony run by area pagan and druid teams.
Since of the pandemic, in-human being celebrations have been canceled this 12 months. But the English Heritage Modern society has set it up so you can livestream the sunrise from Stonehenge.

Lantern Festival

In Canada, Vancouver’s Wintertime Solstice Lantern Competition is a sparkling celebration of solstice traditions from all-around the planet. Traditionally, the Top secret Lantern Modern society assembles a extensive array of new music, dance, foodstuff and amazing lantern-lit processions.

For 2020, they are getting the competition to Zoom, with individuals inspired to share their lanterns and other attempts on the internet.

The ‘Christmas Star’

Saturn, top, and Jupiter, below, are seen after sunset on December 13 from Shenandoah National Park  in Luray, Virginia.

Saturn, top, and Jupiter, below, are viewed right after sunset on December 13 from Shenandoah Nationwide Park in Luray, Virginia.

NASA/Invoice Ingalls

While the pandemic is raining on our parades on Earth, its achieve can not lengthen into the photo voltaic process.

On the night time of December 21, Jupiter and Saturn will seem so carefully aligned in our sky that they will appear like a double world. This shut tactic is termed a conjunction.
As it is going on just in time for Christmas, numerous are supplying it the nickname of the “Christmas Star.”
“You’d have to go all the way again to just in advance of dawn on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment concerning these objects noticeable in the night time sky,” wrote astronomer Patrick Hartigan, a professor of physics and astronomy at Rice College in Houston, in a statement.

The solstice and the “Christmas Star’ will give a coronavirus-weary planet two powerful symbols of hope and reminders of a universe that marches at any time onward to its individual defeat no virus can prevent.

CNN’s Katia Hetter, CNN’s Ashley Strickland and Autumn Spanne contributed to this write-up.

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