In 2012, the earliest winter since 1896 arrives with the solstice at 6:12 A.M. on December 21 (EST). Here’s more about the first day of winter—plus, facts, folklore, and some wonderful winter photos!
“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.” –Steve Martin
The Winter Solstice
Winter inspires both joy and woe. Some people can't wait for the cooler weather, snow, skiing and ice skating, curling up by a fire, and the holiday spirit. Other people dislike the frigid temperatures, blizzards, and wild weather.
The word solstice comes from the Latin words for "sun" and "to stand still.” In the Northern Hemisphere, as summer advances to winter, the points on the horizon where the Sun rises and sets advance southward each day; the high point in the Sun’s daily path across the sky, which occurs at local noon, also moves southward each day. At the winter solstice, the Sun’s path has reached its southernmost position. The next day, the path will advance northward. However, a few days before and after the winter solstice, the change is so slight that the Sun’s path seems to stay the same, or stand still. The Sun is directly overhead at "high-noon" on Winter Solstice at the latitude called the Tropic of Capricorn. In the Northern Hemisphere, the solstice days are the days with the fewest hours of sunlight during the whole year.
See your local Sun rise and set times and see how the days change!
Questions and Answers About Winter
Question: Why is there such a time lag between the shortest day of the year and the lowest average daily temperature of the year?
Answer: This is the shortest day of the year—the time when the Sun reaches its southernmost point in the sky. Although this part of Earth is cooling, its great thermal mass still retains some heat from the summer and fall. As the gradual cooling process continues over the next two months, temperatures will continue to fall, and the coldest temperatures will be recorded. The same pattern holds true for the summer solstice in June, as the year's highest temperatures are recorded later, in July and August.
Question: Was Stonehenge built to celebrate the winter solstice?
Answer: That's one theory. Stonehenge was constructed in several phases over a period of many centuries. Due to the alignment of the stones, experts acknowledge that the design appears to correspond with the use of the solstices and possibly other solar and lunar astronomical events in some fashion. There are several theories as to why the structure was built, including that the area was used as a temple to worship the Sun; as a royal burial ground; and/or as a type of astronomical observatory. However, because none of these theories has been proven correct as yet, the true reason (or reasons) for Stonehenge remains a mystery.
Signs of Winter
It depends on where you are! In some places, snow begins to sprinkle down (or dump) onto the landscape, painting everything white. You notice a peaceful sort of silence when you walk through the woods—a muffled kind of quiet. It also mean shoveling, snowblowing, dealing with bad roads, and sometimes unbearable temperatures. For others, the temperatures become very mild and cool, and Florida fills up with people escaping the harshness of a northern winter.
You can track when the seasons change by recording animal behaviors and the way that the plants grow. Listen to the new sounds and observe what you hear and see.
How do you know that winter is coming? Share your comment below!
Winter Folklore and Verse
Deep snow in winter; tall grain in summer—Estonian proverb
Visits should be short, like a winter's day.
A fair day in winter is the mother of a storm—English proverb
Summer comes with a bound; winter comes yawning.
Onion skins very thin, mild winter coming in.
Wonderful Winter Photos
Our eCards are great photographs to send to family and friends.
Enter your pictures in our Winter Photo Contest here!
Little Bantam in the Snow Send as e-Card!
Marshall Point Lighthouse Send as e-Card!
Please share—what are the signs of winter you see?