Winter Solstice 2020: The First Day of Winter

Winter Solstice Date, Facts, Folklore, and More

August 11, 2020
When is First Day of Winter?

The winter solstice is Monday, December 21, 2020. This is the astronomical first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the shortest day of the year. What happens at the winter solstice? Why is the solstice important? Enjoy solstice facts and folklore from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

When Is the First Day of Winter?

In 2020, the winter solstice arrives on Monday,  December 21, 5:02 A.M. EST, marking the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice always occurs around December 21 or 22. (In the Southern Hemisphere, the winter solstice occurs around June 20 or 21.) It is the day with the fewest hours of sunlight in the whole year.

Winter Solstice Dates

Year Winter Solstice (Northern Hemisphere) Winter Solstice (Southern Hemisphere)
2020 Monday, December 21, at 5:02 A.M. EST Saturday, June 20
2021 Tuesday, December 21, at 10:59 A.M. EST Sunday, June 20*
2022 Wednesday, December 21, at 4:48 P.M. EST Tuesday, June 21
2023 Thursday, December 21, at 10:27 A.M. EST Wednesday, June 21 

*Due to time zone differences, this solstice will technically occur on the next day in some regions.

What Happens on the Winter Solstice?

At the winter solstice, the Sun appears at its most southerly point. The Sun is directly overhead at “high-noon” on the solstice at the latitude called the Tropic of Capricorn. The next day, the path will begin to advance northward.

The word solstice comes from Latin sol “sun” and sistere “to stand still.” So, loosely translated, it means “sun stand still.” For a few days before and after the solstice, the Sun appears to stand still in the sky. The change in its noontime elevation is so slight that the Sun’s path seems to stay the same, or stand still.

As summer advances to winter, the points on the horizon where the Sun rises and sets will 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. Observe the changing day length in your area with our Sunrise and Sunset Times Calculator.

Think of it this way. The solstice brings the return of more sunlight. It only gets brighter from here!

Summer solstice

When we reach the summer solstice on June 20, 21, or 22, the Sun will reach its most northernly spot, directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer. The summer solstice is the longest day of the year (the day with the most daylight hours) and marks the beginning of summer. Learn more about the summer solstice!

Equinoxes
You may also be familiar with the term “equinox.” In the spring (March) and the fall (September), the Sun’s path bring it directly above the equator. Equinox means “equal” and the days and night are of equal length.

See our SEASONS page for a diagram and dates of all seasons.

Winter sunset

Common Questions About the Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year. Is it also the coldest?

The day of the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, which means that it’s the day in which we experience the least amount of daylight. Logically, it would make sense to assume that this is also the coldest day of the year, since we are exposed to less warmth-giving sunlight on this day than at any other time. But this is not true.

There are a lot of factors that affect the temperature of a location on any given day, including altitude, snow cover, and large-scale weather patterns. Snow cover, for example, partially blocks solar radiation from being absorbed by the Earth, which results in less heat being released and an overall drop in temperature. Because of these factors, it’s not possible to point to the same date year after year and call it the coldest day.

In the United States, the coldest days of the year tend to occur between mid-December and late January, so while it’s certainly possible that the coldest day of the year could also be the day of the winter solstice, that’s not usually the case!

Is the Winter Solstice really the start of winter?

There is not a black-and-white answer to this question—it depends on which definition of “winter” you follow:

  • Astronomical winter begins at the winter solstice and ends at the spring equinox. Astronomical seasons are based on the position of Earth in relation to the Sun. 
  • Meteorological winter (in the Northern Hemisphere) starts on December 1 and ends on February 28 (or 29). Meteorological seasons are based on the annual temperature cycle and climatological patterns observed on Earth.

Because an almanac is traditionally defined as a “calendar of the heavens,” we at The Old Farmer’s Almanac follows the astronomical definition of the seasons, which states that each of the four seasons starts on a solstice or equinox.

Learn more about the Reasons for the Seasons.

However, that doesn’t mean that the meteorological definition is incorrect. It is important for meteorologists to be able to compare climatological statistics for a particular season from one year to the next—for agriculture, commerce, and a variety of other purposes. Thus, meteorologists break the seasons down into groupings of three months. Meteorological winter starts on December 1 and includes December, January, and February.

Did you know? For the ancient Celts, the calendar was based around the solstices and equinoxes, marking the Quarter Days, with the mid-points called Cross-Quarter Days.

Learn more about the Celtic calendar.

Ice crystals

Was Stonehenge Built to Celebrate the Winter Solstice?

The solstice has been celebrated since ancient times by cultures around our planet.

Thousands of people celebrate the solstices at Stonehenge in England. 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.

At sunrise at Stonehenge on the summer solstice (longest day of the year), the Sun appears to balance perfectly on one of the stones. 

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’s existence remains a mystery.

Read more about Ancient Sites Aligned with the Solstice and Equinox.

Winter Folklore and Verse

Here at the Almanac, we love our weather folklore. Here are just a few (of the many) proverbs that we have collected in our archives:

  • 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. 

Read more winter weather folklore.

Winter forest sunset

What Does Winter Mean to You?

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. You’ll notice a peaceful sort of silence when you walk through the woods—a muffled kind of quiet. 

Other people dislike the frigid temperatures, blizzards, and wild weather (for good reason). In colder regions, winter often means shoveling, snowblowing, dealing with bad roads, and sometimes unbearable temperatures. In warmer regions, the winter temperatures become very mild or cool, and places such as Florida fill up with people escaping the harshness of a northern winter.

What does winter mean to you? Let us know in the comments!

Winter Weather Forecast

    Brrrr! What about that winter weather? Colder temperatures are due to arrive soon. 

    For 12 months of weather forecasts and so much more, pick up a copy of The 2021 Old Farmer’s Almanac.

    Wishing our entire Almanac community a cozy, magical, safe, and beautiful winter season!

    SUPER DISCOUNT!

    Celebrate Almanac Tradition and Save 57% with a Charter Membership in The Old Farmer’s Almanac Best Value Club

    Best Value Club

    You are invited to join The Old Farmer’s Almanac Best Value Club at a Special Savings!

    An incredible value—57% off for you!
    For traditional Almanac fans:
    Just $29.97! You save 57%!

    Get the best value for your Almanac dollar with these essentials. Claim you Old Farmer’s Almanac Best Value Club Charter Membership today!

    YES, sign me up now!

    Reader Comments

    Leave a Comment

    I enjoy winter

    I live in the Phoenix Arizona Metropolitan Area. The High Temperature in December and January is from the 60s to the 70s. The Phoenix Area has a lot of Snow Birds that come here including people from Canada! This means that I am able to enjoy cool weather during the Winter Months. I do not turn on any heat because I enjoy the nice cool temperatures in my Condo Unit. I have Seasonal Affective Disorder so I have to live where it is sunny and warm year around.

    Those wintry pictures up

    Those wintry pictures up above remind me of a photo I took, of a wintry sunset with trees and an old silo...and this was an old farm building to be torn down, right between a gas station and a strip mall, on a busy road. One little glimpse of the past, it was, and then the sun would be setting behind an auto parts store.....

    winter and solstice and what it means

    I'm retired now, live in snow country (upstate NY) - we have a guy to snowplow the driveway, and I don't have to go slip-sliding around to work or anywhere else, I can stock up, stay inside, and pity those who do. Hey, I put in my time!...

    I do have to say, The Old Farmers Almanac has the most BEAUTIFUL PICTURES OF NATURE anywhere on FB. I do love the beauty of winter, and these pictures certainly show it. I love a cold snowy landscape with a bright blue sky and sun shining, and birds at the feeder against the brilliant sparkly white background. <3

    What Winter means to me.

    Winter is the time for me to slow down. Hibernate. After the ciaos of the busy year, then all the Holiday hustle and bustle, it's my time to rewind. Reflect. Read books. Knit. Enjoy myself for a change. I love Winter. Each season has it's own purpose. That's why I love Maine so much...

    Winter solstice

    It's on 22 Dec in 2019. Not 21.

    Tree's in the winter!!!

    If I were a tree in the winter, I would not want to shed my leaves!!! For, they just might help to keep the chill off of me!!!!

    WINTER

    LOVE THE COOLNESS, STARK BEAUTY OF TREES ,
    FIELDS, FROSTS, ICE, SNOW , BIRDS SCRATCHING FOR NATURAL SEEDS!!!

    Happy Ner Year!

    It would very much appeal to my sense of symmetry if the first day of the New Year was the day after the winter solstice. That is the point at which everything starts over.

    Winter Solstice

    I love winter. It is such a beautiful season. The peace, the dark, the quiet, is wonderful. it is the time when the Great Mother sleeps, while life germinates in her body, to spring forth in the spring. It is a season of renewal and gestation.
    Since I am pagan, I feel a close connection to the earth, the seasons, the life cycles, and the purpose for the changes. It is a time to go within, for self exploration and retrospection. A time to review your life history and what is to come.
    I am not crazy about summer. There is a lot of beauty but it is hot, humid, buggy and pretty miserable. I spent a year in Florida one time, and was pretty sad and felt displaced. I hated the heat, the humidity, the moldy smell, the constant air conditioning, and every day, the sameness.
    I live up north now, and love it. The only drawback is cleaning the snow off my car, so if I had a garage, I would have no problem.

    Winter Solstice

    I love winter. It is such a beautiful season. The peace, the dark, the quiet, is wonderful. it is the time when the Great Mother sleeps, while life germinates in her body, to spring forth in the spring. It is a season of renewal and gestation.
    Since I am pagan, I feel a close connection to the earth, the seasons, the life cycles, and the purpose for the changes. It is a time to go within, for self exploration and retrospection. A time to review your life history and what is to come.
    I am not crazy about summer. There is a lot of beauty but it is hot, humid, buggy and pretty miserable. I spent a year in Florida one time, and was pretty sad and felt displaced. I hated the heat, the humidity, the moldy smell, the constant air conditioning, and every day, the sameness.
    I live up north now, and love it. The only drawback is cleaning the snow off my car, so if I had a garage, I would have no problem.

    What Winter means to me

    It means things are being put to rest for a while and the earth is getting ready for a renewal in the spring. It means slowing down a bit for the weather and getting some beautiful days of snuggling in and just watching the snow fly.

    .....right there with you jane,

    But I still feel lucky to be on this side of the turf. Smile and count your blessings.

    winter

    means a lot of arthritis flare ups & muscle spams(fibromyalgia).

    DST

    How can we lowly humans decide the continuum of space-time while we're just along for the ride on this cosmic rollercoaster¿‽?!

    An old saying about winter

    As the days lengthens the cold straightens

    winter solstice

    In this little town of New Bern, NC, our winter solstice celebration will be shared by those who also celebrate humanity. We will go up on the roof of a local restaurant, sip some wine and enjoy the wonder of the night!

    what winter means to me

    I think without a true winter( snow, frigid temps etc.) You wouldn't appreciate the spring and other seasons as much. Winter is quieter. A pallet of white, grey, brown, andblack. Snow blankets the earth with a insulating cover, to protect tender seedlings and growth. The fun and activities: snow boarding, skiing, sledding, snowballs, snowmen, forts and snowangels!!!! The sun reflecting off the bright white of snow. Catching snowflakes in your mouth. Marveling at the shape of a snowflake(no two are the same!) Delighting in the pattern of frost on a window.It is a time of reflection and renewal. Sitting around a fireplace snuggled under a quilt. Even the animals changing their coats to blend with the landscape. The green of evergreens. My first winters were in Montana. The memories forever in my heart and soul.

    December 21 Winter Solstice

    Winter Solstice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is always a somber time, but then the count down to Summer and all the fun events starts.

    What winter solstice means to us.

    Family vacations, my 3 children my husband and myself all sitting on a warm dandy beach enjoy the sun and the love we share as a family unit, United as one universally.

    Winter Solstice 2018

    Yes, but WHY does the weather continue to get colder after the winter solstice?

    The winter solstice is the shortest day and longest night, but nights continue to be shorter than days right up to the spring equinox (around March 21). One would expect the temperature to start getting warmer the day after the spring equinox, when there is finally more sunlight than darkness.

    Most years, the weather actually starts getting warmer around February in the Northern Hemisphere (give or take, there are a lot of variations in weather and local climates). This is because temperature movement between Earth and space relies on finding a balance, and the colder Earth is, the more heat it can absorb from the sun, and the hotter Earth is, the more heat the ground can radiate into space at night.

    So the temperature change is not lagging behind the solstice, it is coming earlier than the equinox, due to the extreme temperature the hemisphere acquired during winter (or summer).

    When is Winter?

    For where I live in Virginia, the seasons line up better with astronomical seasons than they do with calendar months (the so-called meteorological seasons). It usually doesn't get really cold here until late December (although this year has been an exception) and snow and freezing temperatures continue well into March. The same holds true for summer when the heat hangs on well past Labor Day. If the weathermen insist on assigning seasons to whole months (to simplify record keeping) then Winter should be January - March, etc. Nine out of ten years, it's way to cold on March 1 to call it the first day of Spring.

    solstice article

    the temperature is a measure or indicator (abstract)

    it cannot be hot or cold
    do you mean LOW temperature?

    What I think about Winter

    I see winter as a time to slow down and relax by the fireplace with a cup of tea. I have a ritual of cleaning out my closet and giving to charities. I enjoy the holidays in winter because I get to see my family and catch up on with them. I also enjoy going out for social events with groups of friends. Every December I go to see the Nutcracker ballet at the local performing arts center. I suppose for me Winter is filled with fun and exciting things to do as long as I bundle up on the frigid days I get along fine with Winter.

    Sounds perfect!

    Sounds perfect!

    Winter Wonderland

    I am so happy i came across the almanac this morning. As I am sitting on my patio in Germantown, Maryland watchinf the rain drops hit the pavement and my face being struck by cool...crisp air.

    I love the winter! Its full of so many beautiful creations. The snow falling...christmas spirit present early on, children laughing, lights & decor galore & many great pages of facts ansmd folklore to explore while sitting in front of my fire. Its the season of snowflakes & snuggles. Its truly magical.

    Winter Solstice

    The Editors's picture

    We’re glad to hear that you’re enjoying our website! Have a lovely winter solstice and holiday season!

    winter solstice

    Every year we host a Solstice celebration on a hill overlooking a lovely lake, near our house. In MN is it not a choice to have a frozen season. We try to encourage our friends to embrace it. Better for the spirits and better to get outside and get that Vitamin D. Here's a poem I wrote for it:
    Behold the early falling of the light.
    The creeping cold, the dimming of our sight.

    But hark, a hoot comes from the darkened trees
    A call, and then another ‘cross the freeze

    A stillness, crisp and thin, descends to earth
    A star and then another given birth

    Fear not, for winter’s visit has an end.
    Go forth with fire and cloak and be its friend!

    the pictures on this site

    I just have to tell you that, on pursuing this site about the equinoxes, I was struck by the beauty of many of the pictures posted there. What joy they brought to me this early morning!

    Love the poem

    Love the poem

    Beautiful!

    Great job on your poem! Thanks for sharing!

    Pages