The winter solstice (or hibernal solstice), also known as midwinter, is an astronomical phenomenon marking the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. 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. In the Northern Hemisphere this is the December solstice and in the Southern Hemisphere this is the June solstice.
The axial tilt of Earth and gyroscopic effects of its daily rotation mean that the two opposite points in the sky to which the Earth’s axis of rotation points (axial precession) change very slowly (at the current rate it would take just under 26,000 years to make a complete circle). As the Earth follows its orbit around the Sun, the polar hemisphere that faced away from the Sun, experiencing winter, will, in half a year, face towards the Sun and experience summer. This is because the two hemispheres face opposite directions along Earth’s axis, and so as one polar hemisphere experiences winter, the other experiences summer.
More evident from high latitudes, a hemisphere’s winter solstice occurs on the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, when the sun’s daily maximum elevation in the sky is at its lowest. Although the winter solstice itself lasts only a moment in time, the term sometimes refers to the day on which it occurs. Other names are “midwinter”, the “extreme of winter” (Dongzhi), or the “shortest day”. In some cultures it is seen as the middle of winter, while in others it is seen as the beginning of winter. In meteorology, winter in the Northern Hemisphere spans the entire period of December through February. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening hours of daylight during the day. The earliest sunset and latest sunrise dates differ from winter solstice, however, and these depend on latitude, due to the variation in the solar day throughout the year caused by the Earth’s elliptical orbit (see earliest and latest sunrise and sunset).
Worldwide, interpretation of the event has varied across cultures, but many have held a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time.
The Day The Snow Finally Came
© Kathleen E. Sorensen
Published: March 13, 2017
“It’s the middle of winter,” they would say,
But I just stared in dismay.
“How could it be winter without a blanket of snow?”
They said, “We do not know.”
I waited hours, I waited weeks,
Yet you could still see those mountain peaks.
“The snow will not come this year,” I thought.
Not a single dot.
I wanted to build a beast of a snowman this year
And sled down those snow hills with no fear.
Ski around the maze of trails with ease,
Seeing all the lovable white trees.
Then one day I saw something fall,
And it was so very small.
There were millions of them coming.
Oh, it was stunning!
The sun made the snow sparkle like glitter.
It was a real homerun hitter!
Today the snow will fall all day,
Leaving a path of fun on its way.
I immediately had chills run up my spine.
This is my heart’s sunshine.
I love the snow so very much,
And I ran outside to hear it crunch.
Freedom of the Hills
By: Douglas Fraser – 1968
Mine is the freedom of the tranquil hills
When vagrant breezes bend the sinewy grass,
While sunshine on the widespread landscape spills
And light as down the fleet cloud-shadowed pass.
Mine, still, that freedom when the storm-clouds race,
Cracking their whips against defiant crags
And mists swirl boiling up from inky space
To vanish on the instant, torn to rags.
When winter grips the mountains in a vice,
Silently stifling with its pall of snow,
Checking the streams, draping the rocks in ice,
Still to their mantled summits I would go.
Sun-drenched, I sense the message they impart;
Storm-lashed, I hear it sing through every vein;
Among the snows it whispers to my heart
“Here is your freedom. Taste – and come again.”