5 Facts About the Winter Solstice
Break out the vitamin D pills and plug-in those happy lamps, today is Winter Solstice! To celebrate the darkest day of the year, we’ve got five facts to share.
#1 - Winter Solstice occurs each year when one of the Earth’s poles is at its furthest point from the sun.
The orientation of the Earth’s axis to the sun is always changing throughout the year as we revolve around it. As this orientation changes throughout the year, so does the distribution of sunlight on Earth’s surface at any given latitude. The Winter Solstice, or the shortest day of the year, happens when the North Pole is tilted farthest from the Sun. Winter Solstice always happens between December 20 to December 23, but the date varies year to year.
#2 - 2019 Winter Solstice will occur specifically at 8:19 PM for Seattle.
Not only does the Winter Solstice occur on a specific day, but it also occurs at a specific time of day, corresponding to the instant the North Pole is aiming furthest away from the sun on the 23.5-degree tilt of the Earth's axis. Regardless of where you live, the solstice happens at the same moment for everyone on the planet.
In Seattle, we will experience 8 hours and 26 minutes of sunlight, compared to 15 hours and 59 minutes on the Summer Solstice. The North Pole, having been without a sunrise since October, will continue to have no sunrise. Meanwhile, the South Pole will be basking in the glow of the midnight sun, which won't set until March.
#3 - Many cultures have viewed this day as the death and rebirth of the sun
The seeming death of the light and the very real threat of starvation over the winter months would have weighed heavily on our ancestors, who held varied solstice celebrations and rites meant to herald the return of the sun and hope for a new life. Scandinavian and Germanic pagans lit fires and may have burned Yule logs as a symbolic means of welcoming back the light. Cattle and other animals were slaughtered around midwinter, followed by feasting on what was the last fresh meat for several months. The modern Druidic celebration Alban Arthan reveres the death of the Old Sun and the birth of the New Sun.
#4 - The word solstice means "sun stands still"
The word “Solstice” derives from the Latin scientific term “solstitium”. The first part of the Latin word “sol” means "sun," and the past participle stem of “sistere” meaning "to make stand." This comes from the fact that the sun’s position in the sky relative to the horizon at noon, which increases and decreases throughout the year, appears to pause in the days surrounding the solstice. Not able to explain Solstice without the knowledge of the position of space and of the earth relative to the sun, earlier people were thinking about the sun's trajectory - how long it stayed in the sky and what sort of light it cast.
#5 - Winter Solstice is lumenomics’ least favorite day.
In case you didn’t know, we love natural light. Natural light increases our productivity and comfort and provides the mental and visual stimulation necessary to regulate our circadian rhythms. Natural light is also a major source for vitamin D, which can help boost our immune systems so that they can fight off disease more effectively. Not to mention, exposure to natural daylight on a regular basis can reduce anxiety and improve moods! The lack of natural light on Winter Solstice might make us sleepier, less productive, and moodier. Luckily, Winter Solstice is on a Saturday, giving us all the more reason to sleep in this weekend.