Winter Solstice 2018: The First Day of Winter

Winter Solstice Date, Facts, Folklore, and More

By The Old Farmer's Almanac
When is First Day of Winter?

Winter officially begins with the Winter Solstice on Friday, December 21, 2018. This is the astronomical first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Enjoy our winter solstice facts, folklore, FAQs, and more!

When is the Winter Solstice?

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

In 2018, the winter solstice arrives on Friday, December 21, at 5:23 pm EST.

Coincidentally, December’s full Moon—the Full Cold Moon—will also appear on the night of the 21st, though it will not be at its absolute peak until the next day. So, keep your eyes peeled for a (near) Winter Solstice Full Moon that night! (Believe it or not, the next full Moon to actually peak on the winter solstice won’t be until 2094!)

Winter Solstice Dates

Year Winter Solstice (Northern Hemisphere)
2018 Friday, December 21
2019 Saturday, December 21
2020 Monday, December 21

What is the Winter Solstice?

The word solstice comes from Latin sol “sun” and sistere “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.

Observe the changing day length in your area with our Sunrise and Sunset Times Calculator.

Winter sunset

Winter FAQs

Question: Why is there such a time lag between the shortest day of the year (shortest amount of daylight hours) and the lowest average daily temperature of the year?

Answer: The day of the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, meaning the one in which we experience the least amount of daylight in 24 hours; it is also 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 (in the Northern Hemisphere).

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’s existence remains a mystery. Read more about Ancient Sites Aligned with the Solstice and Equinox.

Ice crystals

Question: Is the solstice the start of winter or the mid-point of winter?

Answer: There is not a black-and-white answer—it depends. We follow what the astronomical calendar tells us. The solstice is the beginning of astronomical winter. (An almanac is defined as a “calendar of the heavens,” so we use the astronomical definition as well.) Astronomical seasons are based on the position of the Earth in relation to the Sun. However, meteorological seasons are based on the annual temperature cycle.

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. Winter 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.

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. 

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. 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!

Learn More About the First Days of Seasons

Find out more about the First Days of the Seasons:

What will the rest of winter be like this year? Read our Winter Weather Forecast and pick up a copy of The 2018 Old Farmer’s Almanac to find out!

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Winter Warmth

A time to appreciate the warmth of the sun, a hot bowl of soup, a novel or two, a shot of scotch or two, reminisce with friends and family and slow down time to enjoy life.

What Winter Means to Me

In the fall, most people are mourning the passing of Summer, but here in south Florida, we say "good riddance." Good riddance to the heat, humidity, daily rain, and mosquitoes. This area is the envy of the nation when it comes to winter weather (it was 85 yesterday Dec. 20). The only downside is all of the traffic because the population of this area nearly doubles between November and April.

Winter solstice

Today is NOT the first day of winter. It is the winter solstice, or Mid Winter's Day. In all lunar calendars the start of winter is around the start of November, although the exact date is not agreed on. That is why there is Bonfire night to boost the power of the sun during the winter months. Today also coincides with the start of the new fiscal quarter. Rents were paid, wages were paid, hiring fairs were held on the quarter days that were the two solstices and the equinox, Or Lady day, mid Summer, Michaelmas and Candlemas. These are fiscal arrangements and not marking the march of the seasons. The seasons change at the start of November, February, May, and August. This puts Mid summers day in mid summer. Tch

Winters Harshness

Bill Murray got it right in the movie GoundHog Day - It is cold, gray, and lasts for the rest of your life!

winter

Winter
We thrive on sun for energy & nutrients.
Our moods change for the sun brings vibrants. Winter & sun in combination is good. But the short day light hours doesn't give people who work inside much outlet to get sun light. Koodos to those who plow the snow as u I prefer the sun.

winter's harshness

in time, every season becomes precious and deserves to be prolonged

Hayye

Hayye

The beauty and joy of winter

After seeing the trees to loose their leaves the winter comes with all its splendor. Snow turns everything white and the sounds are muffled because of it. Love winter!!

Winter Solstice

Means snow, snow, and more snow. You can never have too much snow! I also love the darker days because it gives me an excuse to hibernate like a bear. Only problem is that I still have to go to work every day!

Winter Solstice

Means snow, snow, and more snow. You can never have too much snow! I also love the darker days because it gives me an excuse to hibernate like a bear. Only problem is that I still have to go to work every day!

Winter

After spending 28 years plowing snow I will be so happy to be away from it in 2 years. It seems snow brings out some of the worst in people form where I sit. Winter used to be my favorite time of year looking forward to the beauty of a fresh snow cover, but now all I want is to go where it is warm.

What does winter mean?

A time of rest from labors. A soft downy comforter pulled up around the ears of the ground to let it sleep and regain its energy for a new burst come spring.

Use of the word theory

I note here you apply the 'common' usage of the word theory which in scientific terms would translate to 'Hypothesis'. for example you say: "because none of these theories has been proven correct as yet, the true reason (or reasons) for Stonehenge remains a mystery".
This different usage of the same word is what provides ammunition to deniers of various 'Scientific Theories' like evolution where the word means something more like "It's been tested, peer reviewed, and is the only solution we can accept because the all evidence we have supports this, and only this explanation.

21ST December

Its my birthday! Shortest day but longest night.......

Well, Happy Birthday! I see

Well, Happy Birthday! I see it as "Now, the days are getting longer". Yay!

1st Day of Winter

There are two common definitions of winter.
Meteorlogical Winter: Dec/Jan/Feb
Astronomical Winter: 21st Dec - 19th Mar
In either case 21st December is not mid-winter, merely the shortest day.

midwinter

21st of December is midwinter's day not the start of winter. In four days time we celebrate the return of the sun and The Green Man gives gifts of food to show that spring is coming and we can plant a new crop. The festival was taken over by Christians to become the birth of Christ rather than the birth of a new growing season.

Midwinter

I very much prefer your take on December 25th rather then the Christian
version,and will be looking more into this over the next few days. Thanks

December 21

Yo Shmumpkin, the Christian message is much more important than the pagan message. The Light of the World has come into the world just for you (and everyone else) to show you the Truth. You have the choice to accept or reject the Truth. He will respect your choise, but it is forever.

Winter

As for the truth, yeah ok. Christianity is based on lies, domination and control of the masses. Talk about a passive/aggressive personality, your messiah has it in spades... I bring you peace and truth and IF YOU DON'T DO EXACTLY LIKE I SAY YOU WILL BURN IN HELL

Cart before the horse...

...or perhaps sleigh before the reindeer? Either way, my dear, you've got it back to front. The reality is that your most solemn and dreadful end is to burn in hell anyway. Jesus Christ came to earth to save you from that, if only you will repent of your rebellion against him and submit to his infinite love and compassion. In so doing you will discover that he is worthy of your love and worship.

Praying

Anddrea, my prayers are with you. Until you have a personal relationship with the Lord, you just can't understand it. I pray you never totally close your heart and mind to Christ. Merry Christmas and God bless you.

There is no Christmas without Christ.

There is no Christmas wioht Christ. It's all a bunch of hype to get you to buy stuff. There are Christian roots in the Christmas tree, in St Nicholas, also called Santa Claus. That day is actually Dec 16. The same goes for Halloween Hallo meaning holy. All Souls' Day and then Nov 1 being all saints day. All of these holidays are based in Christianity. But commercialism has slowly brainwashed people into buying and wasting more and more. So if you take Christ out of Christmas you're left with the mall, and television commercials.

Winter

My daughter loves the Winter, and prays for snow. Snow is lovely but I am generally averse to cold temperatures. I get cold easily but love seeing and feeling seasons come and go and it's lovely to mark them. I was interested by what Crystal, above, was saying about hibernation. I believe we should have 'hibernation leave' built into working practice. When the sky is grim at 2pm I feel it pressing down on me and I just want to sleep. You're just not as functional during the winter. The winters seem to have been getting milder but the lack of light is of course the same :)

Founding traditions

If this almanac was founded in 1792, it must have originally used a very old version of HTML.

natural

I celebrate winter and summer solstice and spring and Autumn equinox. It is so amazing to be apart of natural process that so many people throughout history have connected to. me and my friend exchange gifts we have made using natural material. however i do suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, i believe natural we should hibernate but our human system is so built up we cant, so we struggle along in winter like zombies. Nevertheless the best thing about winter solstice is now we start to get longer days. winter is beautiful because we know with everything in life, where there is dark there is light somewhere to be found. winter reminds us that we need to have hope for the future. xxx

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, is helped tremendously by being exposed to full spectrum lighting for several hours of the day. It works a hell of a lot better than drugs. If you are not on a regiment of light treatment, I suggest you start. Find a doctor that knows about it.

WInter

I would like to comment that 21st December is the MIDWINTER point NOT the first day of winter which began on November 1st..... Just as June 21st is the MIDSUMMER point... I do wish the internet sites followed the true traditional dates for the seasons.

2nd February is first day of spring.. 21st March Equinox 30th April first day of summer 21st June Midsummer 2nd August first day of Autumn 21st September Equinox Ist November first day of Winter 21st December MIdwinter...... Thank you

QUARTER DAYS

The Solstices and Equinoxes are called Quarter Days. So I guess this would make the Cross Quarter Days, the mid-points between the Quarter Days, the Fist Days of the season. Some very interesting celebrations old and new occur near these days. The pagans and the Christians both seem to like to celebrate year round. Lakiam!

And which planet are you on.

And which planet are you on.

Pages