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

    Yes it is warmer

    I've noticed a distinct warming of winter than compared to 30 years ago. I can't remember the last time we had snow on xmas day recently, but I do as a kid and as a teenager, but the summers have gotten longer and we have more Indian summers now than we used to.
    Its a shame that my kids have only experienced big snow several times in their life in 25 years.

    Think you need to go and get

    Think you need to go and get some sleep!! How were you awake that early-I'm just starting my day!

    headed south

    I moved to Texas after I had retired to get away from tge Michigan winters... so glad I did..

    Michigan Winters

    I agree one hundred percent! I think the concept of Winter Solstice is very interesting reading, however; when it come to the frigid temperatures, I can really do without that especially with four months of aching joints. I am counting down to my retirement so that I can move Southwest to get away from the snow and frigid temperatures. The Winter Solstice is Interesting reading; however you can keep the winter days.

    Winter

    Winter..Brings back all the Great Memories of growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan...Ice skating., skiing, sledding, and snowshoeing....staying outside all day on Saturdays at the Ice Skating Rink was my favorite then going into the warming shed to have Hot dogs and Hot chocolate...my mother enjoyed having 5 children gone for the whole day for herself !

    Winter Cold

    I couldn't stand the cold, even as a child. My mom told me I was a "summer baby" (June 1st birthday), But now as I am about to turn 61 (jun.) it's worse, with every year I dread it more. I DO NOT LIKE WINTER!!!!

    Winter

    Winter used to be so much fun when I was young...skaimg for hours in the bush and on the pond, sledding and snow trails and snow sculpting competitions...
    my Spirit still loves all these things...but my 53 year old body is fight cancer and Lyme...but since I changed to fighting for my life; drug free; I believe I will be skating in February!

    Skating in February

    I hope you can! And pray for a miracle for you!. God Bless!

    Winter

    I've lived in Florida, but lately I spend most of my time in New York. I like winter, and I like all seasons. I think it's great that the seasons change , and one has the opportunity to change ones wardrobe. It's certainly boring to live in an area with the same weather all year.
    One thing I really like about winter is a big snowstorm(blizzard).☃ There's nothing more beautiful than viewing a panoramic snowstorm from a high level apartment.
    One negative of winter is the thought of walking on black ice.

    Winter

    I love winter but I hate it too! In the western part of Canada it is very dry in the winter so I hate it because it means lots of lotion, but I love it too because when I walk in the snow it's very crunchy and I like the sound of it under my boots. When there's no wind and it's clear at night I love stepping outside to breathe in that cold air and see the stars sparkling and then I thank God for the wonderful things He made for us to enjoy. I hate the winter though when I have to get up early for work and I have to go out and scrape my windows off and go to work in a cold car. When it gets really cold out I use the command start but then I think of the gas I waste and the fumes it makes then it makes me mad. I get very sad when I see street people wondering around out in the cold.

    Winter

    Psalms 74:17 says-"17 You set up all the boundaries of the earth; You made summer and winter." l personally favor the summer and fall but I will always be thankful that God gave us four seasons and the snow can be so beautiful. JW.ORG

    cold vrs hot

    where I live in Nevada it down in the teens [20F last night] but as high as 120 in the summer
    and I can deal with cold much better then the heat , but the wife is opposite hides from the cold
    ... me ..im just like an old bear , ...... I sleep through the coldest part ! gnite !

    i love

    I love the winter season very much.

    Dislike Winte

    Houston! I dislike Winter. .Dry skin, chilled all the time. You have to wear a lot of clothes. Air Conditioner one day Heater the next day.50 degree change in 12 hour's. I think Florida has it great! & I'm a Texan. It is what it is!

    Winter

    I live in Minnesota and been through 60+ winters. Winter lets you know a significant higher power is in charge, your priorities have changed whether you like it or not. I went sliding with my granddaughter today she ate the carrot off the snowman’s nose... Deal with it as best you can. Happy Solstice!

    Winter

    I am not a big fan of Winter. I love the heat and the warm sun. It takes me ten minutes just to get ready to go out and another ten to warm up the car, scrape the windows and the whole routine. Summer a short and flip flops and I am out the door. Also feel so sick to my stomach when I see homeless people sleeping outside in this season.

    homeless folk in winter

    my wife and I feel the same grief for people in the cold
    we go to the thrift store and church sales in warm weather and by coats and snow pants
    then we give them in the winter as the Lord leads us..

    winter pet peeve !!

    when one is out at the stores and you see "parents" walking into the store
    in cold weather 50 to 35 F and their little 1 year old is in a thin tee and diaper,
    while they are wear sweaters as they walk in !! ...... thoughtless !

    Thank you for thinking of the

    Thank you for thinking of the less fortunate. People like you will get it back down the road. Have a great winter.

    What winter means to me

    Winter can be very pretty after a fresh snowfall, that is if you are on the inside looking out.
    However, winter can be very mean if you are on the outside and it's freezing cold. Winter days
    are often grey and gloomy. My body seems to run on solar batteries and in the winter my solar batteries just do not seem to stay charged for very long - does that make me a sun worshipper?

    What winter means to me.

    I call it a guilt free season, I don't have to mow the lawn, or feel guilty about being inside when the sun is out. The other nice thing is if I get cold I can always put on more clothes, but if I get hot in the summer there are only so many I can take off to cool down. L.O.L.

    What winter means to me.

    Great no orange cone season for a while

    Winter

    Hate it. Period !

    What Winter Means to Me.

    Winter means it's time to prune the roses so they can re-emerge in the spring in all their glory. It means dragging my Texas-born hubby to my home state for a New England Christmas. I love the cold weather and the snow. It's a time to bundle up and walk in the snow covered woods, where everything is so quiet. It's when hats, scarves and mittens are placed on the radiator to dry after making snow angels. Ice skating, snowmen, snowballs and licking icicles. I wish it would snow in south Texas!!

    Winter is Necessary

    Winter makes you appreciate summer all the more! Winter makes you tough, keeps you humble and forces you get some rest!

    Winter-snow

    i still like the snow, when everything is covered you will have that brief period of beauty, quiet, as i enjoy the movies on TMC and AMC.

    Winter is necessary

    Yes Meg..even humans sort of hibernate...

    What Winter Means to Me

    I am not sure what winter means to me I have only experienced winter once in the last 16 years. Living in S. Florida and now Southern New Mexico I do not see much winter unless it is on TV.
    Maybe this year in Southern New Mexico we may see snow and cold temperatures.

    What winter means to me!

    I love to watch it snow, but I hate to be out in it, because of the cold, I have Reynaud's Disease, so I get too cold a lot quicker than most people at least in my fingers, toes, nose, and ears. I tried living in Southern California once, but it gets way too hot there in May, winter was great, Spring not so much...we went North then. Right now I live in CO and in a canyon the weather isn't so bad, it does get cold and we usually get some snow, but not a whole lot. Sadly we just had some single digit temps over night the last couple of nights.

    Winter?

    Just getting more excited for Spring and Summer!

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