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

    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.

    Winter solstice

    Thank you Elaine - at last someone who knows the difference between the fiscal world and the natural world. Happy Solstice. x

    Winter :)

    I really like winter, especially when it snows, but since I live in the U.K. we don't get much snow. There is Christmas though and I like getting presents for everyone, and seeing what they think they open them makes me happy. There are temporary ice skating rinks which are fun and when it does snow everyone goes sledging. It's also cold which is nice because it's easy to warm up (if you want to) but you don't feel hot and sticky all the time like you do in the summer

    Winter time

    Winter in the UK seems milder that years ago or is it my age! Our summer is milder too... we used to have really cold snow covered times in January but I can remember the last time we had snow here. I feel a bit let down as I don't like the winter in the slightest and hate hiding away from the dark nights at home. Snow was a joy and the best part! Think that I need to go and find some and frolic!

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