Winter Solstice 2020: The First Day of Winter

Winter Solstice Date, Facts, Folklore, and More

December 29, 2019
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)
2019 Saturday, December 21* Friday, June 21
2020 Monday, December 21 (5:02 A.M. EST) Saturday, June 20
2021 Tuesday, December 21 Sunday, June 20*

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

What Happens at 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 2020 Old Farmer’s Almanac.

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

    Reader Comments

    Leave a Comment

    winter solstice poem by carol white 1/5/18

    That's a lovely poem and good thoughts. The first thing I did this morning was to bring in armfuls of wood for the wood stove. I wanted to have a good bit piled on the hearth before it started raining. I brought in 6 armfuls of dry wood! Then I fed the chickens and my husband & I. Now I can sit back and relax by the fire. My easel and oil paints are in the same room. I certainly enjoy winter a lot more now that I'm retired. It was no fun having to clear our driveway and still have to brave icy, slick roads to get to work an hour away. NOW I can enjoy winter, thank God, and I do!

    I know its a year old :)

    I love your poem, its very pretty and captures winter perfectly :)

    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!

    Love Winter

    Winters my favorite season enjoy the crisp cold air, zero humidity and no pesky bugs to content with. I also love Winter because I could sleep so much better. I'm so happy to see the temperature started to go down. Unfortunately within a few months my favorite season will be gone and the temperature would start to warm up and the pesky bugs would come back again.

    Winter solstice

    Thank you for your e-news. Very informative. Just want to return your blessings for the new year. May it be filled with health, joy and prosperity. And love the gorgeous photos :)

    Winter

    Absolutely ...winter is my favorite season...most comfortable!

    No humidity, extreme heat, heat rashes, heat related swollen feet, bites, Let me become a beach bum...to swim in the oceans...salt water and sand.

    I Love Winter

    I spend my winters hiking and camping in The Wilderness Areas of The Catskill Mountains taking my Wildlife and Nature Photos. I think more people would enjoy Winter if they knew how to dress for it.

    Winter isn't my favorite

    It's very nice to know that the days are about to get longer again. I can't wait for the Spring Equinox!

    Winter isn't my favorite either!

    Spring equinox is only 88 days away.

    Winter

    I love winter, the cool cold crisp fresh air. It rids all the old and brings in the new for Spring. It's a time of reflection and appreciation. I love looking out after a snow and getting out in it. It is refreshing taking deep breaths the air is so clean. Also stopping and looking at the crystals of the snow shimmer and if you get real close and look at all the different shapes of the snowflakes it's wonderful and exquisite on how fine and delicate they are. Winter is wonderful. Food taste better, I love putting my bottled water out and letting it get nice and cold and even freeze. I love driving in it. I love playing in it, I love shoveling in it. Any day that has freshness like Winter I'll take it. We are Blessed with the cold winter months, we need them, It's the cycle of Life. It's beautiful and it also can be harsh. I think it is a nice way to start off the year. Anew fresh crisp clean, Winter.

    I love winter

    No more sweating like a pig waking up to soaking wet sheets in the night, no more slipping on a steep embankment cutting grass, no more neighbor cutting his grass every single day rain or shine, no more dread of turning on the oven to get that cookie fix, no more fleas, ticks and mosquitoes (well with these warm winters the ticks are always there) and lastly plenty of time to read the almanac!

    Winter means....

    I don't have to shave my legs

    Winter

    I love your sense of humor. There has to be some good in winter.

    Astronomical vs. Meteorological Seasons

    This article spoke of the difference between the astronomical seasons and the meteorological seasons. Another good example of this difference is that the meteorological rain year starts on October 1st. The reason that this date is chosen is because about that time of year is when the snow pack and surface water such as creek and river flows, and lake levels are at their lowest.

    Winter means to me

    My birthday is December 22. I get my week of vacation in between Yule and New Year's.Celebrating the Holidays with all my family. And celebrating with my Pagan family. I also look FF to hosting the Winter Solstice event, every year with our all women Pagan Circle. And Indeed the cooler weather. I'm no Summer girl for sure. Winter is my favorite season by far!!! Blessed Be to you and yours on this blessed Solstice Day!

    Seasons of Life

    I am a winter's child being born on December 21. Winter is my least favorite season but to appreciate light you must know darkness. Out of dormanancy comes new growth. Everything needs a resting and restoration time. The Earth knows what it needs with each change of seasons. Each one has it's on unique beauty. Winter is soft and quietly waiting for the new birth of Spring, then the warmth and activity of Summer life, moves into the relaxation of the Fall, leading to the death in winter. So is the cycle of Life of our own seasons.

    Your comment on....

    Your comment on the farmers almanac about the winter solstice is a beautiful description I've never heard make so sense. Thank you

    The Seasons of Life

    Your comment is beautifully stated and 100% true. The fall and winter seasons are magical, and they are Nature's/God's way of showing us the process of dying and death are equally as breathtaking as the vibrancy and life of spring and summer. All energy is a cycle; nothing truly ever dies.

    Winter

    For me winter is love, home and family by a cozy fire with hot chocolate ~ I'm more aware of my blessings and contemplate what lies ahead for myself and those I love. Winter is spiritual, playful and fun. It reminds me to be mindful of those who are in need when temperatures drop....people as well as animals. Winter blessings to all.

    I love winter same as summers

    I love winter same as summers , both have their own fun , in winters we always try to stay warm .. its a good experience to play outdoors and have fun

    Winter

    I love winter , a time for family and snuggling up by the fire with a cup of tea watching the grinch or any other Christmas movie

    Winter Revelry

    I love the contemplative chill and cosying up of winter. I unfortunately live in Florida. However, every few winters we get a real bone-chiller (in the 'teens) and that's when I bundle up and hit our beautiful state parks for that magnificent hush that happens in January and February. It's just the best! I miss winters in North Carolina, where my family is originally from, but I have to admit I don't miss driving the icy winding roads!

    Love all the Solstice information!

    Please keep me on your sender list. Thank you!

    Less Trolls and more Cheer!

    The older I get the more I prefer winter to summer. That wonderful time of year when everyone dresses up for the holidays and dresses down to snuggle by the fire. I live for those holiday flavors like eggnog, warm spiced mead, and pumpkin flavored everything. It's a time for family gatherings, family traditions, and bitter sweet memories of family members that are no longer with us. Lets not forget the wonder of fresh snow -- God's airbrush that covers the world's imperfections with a flawless white veil, if only for a little while. Sure winter can be cold but that just gives us a reason to keep warm with someone special.

    I thought this was a wonderful article and I am mystified by the amount of Trolls and pseudointellectuals that felt the need to correct the title without bothering to read the content. May all of those miserable Grinches get frostbite on their finger tips and forgo typing again until summer.

    Merry Christmas to all - even you, Shmumpkin.

    WINTER SOLSTICE: Yaldā Night

    Shab-e Yalda ("Yalda night" Persian: شب یلدا‎‎) or Shab-e Chelleh ("night of forty", Persian: شب چله‎‎) is an Iranian festival celebrated on the "longest and darkest night of the year," that is, in the night of the Northern Hemisphere's winter solstice. Calendrically, this corresponds to the night of December 20/21 (±1) in the Gregorian calendar, and to the night between the last day of the ninth month (Azar) and the first day of the tenth month (Dey) of the Iranian civil calendar.

    Yalda night

    Very interesting. Thank you for sharing that cultural information. I really enjoy learning about the different traditions that we have around this amazing world that we live in.

    Not the first day of winter

    The Winter Solstice is the MIDDLE day of winter - it is in the middle of the 90 shortest days of the year. Just like June 21 is the middle of summer, not the first day of summer - probably why in almost every northern hemisphere country other than the US, June 21 is called 'midsummer'.

    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

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