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

    Updated Seasons

    We now have 4 updated seasons in the Great Lakes Region... Hot, Cold, Dry, and Wet.
    Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter are just a memory.

    Winter? Learning to love it again

    After spending the first 31 years of my life in upstate NY during the inhospitable winters, and dealing with all of that, I've spent the past 21 years living in a relatively warm part of Japan as a teacher and most recently a farmer.

    The only problem with winter here is the lack of central heating and insulation in the buildings. It is literally as cold inside the schools as it is outside, which makes both teaching an interesting English class and learning how to effectively layer clothing vitally important.

    I don't miss the cold of an upstate winter, but I do miss the holidays. Stay safe and warm everyone!

    Winter in Japan

    gene. You say you are in Japan, but it really depends on where you are in Japan. If you are on the southernmost islands, like Okinawa winter is similar to southern California. If you are on the island of Hokkaido you have WINTER! Enen on the main island of Honshu, the weather varies from north to south. Would have been nice to know exactly where you are.

    I love winter

    Winter has a charm and an old world romantic, nostalgic vibe that other seasons just don't have. I love snow, I loved the hushed feeling, everything that is connected with the winter season. I love driving around the snowy town and seeing how much prettier everything looks in snow. I just feel younger in the winter. In summer, the stifling heat makes it hard to breathe. I don't like sweating or feeling unclean. Winter is my season! I also love Fall.

    I love winter

    I have loved winter as far back in childhood as I can remember. I must admit though, living in southern California, I never have had to deal with snow unless we drove to the mountains after a winter storm. But I absolutely love the rain and our rainy season is Wintertime. I think my father passed his love of rain to me. I remember so many early rainy mornings in the '80s...Dad & Mom would pack us 3 kids in the car and we'd drive to La Jolla cove and the Children's Pool to watch the huge swells on the ocean and watch the huge waves crashing. It was so exciting.
    And since we barely get rain over here in CA...I prefer it over sunny skies any day.

    Winter Is For Kids

    At 7 years-old, I loved winter. It could mean days off from School. It was a good time for taking the sled down steep hills. At 12 years-old, winter came to mean shovel and sweep the walkways. After the chores it was time to slide down the best hills in the neighbourhood. At 17, winter wasn't any fun at all. All I did was shovel and sweep the walk, stay inside, and pass the hours reading.

    At 64 years-old, winter can go to Hell. These days, I feel cold even at 19º C. I now have more complaints about winter, but there is one good thing. I don't have to shovel snow.

    Franky and his no more shoveling snow

    Hey Franky,
    Winter is crisp, clean, and wonderful. How about shoveling yourself with the one you want to grow old with , (? or find a loved one ) and snuggle under a quilt, all warm and comfy; to create some new memories for the winter. Just a smiling thought.
    Peace and Blessed Be....

    Franky and his snuggles

    I like you way of thinking!! ;)

    Winter fun!

    I LOVE winter. Mostly because of the snow. There's always more high tech layers that can be added, but there's only so much you can take off in the heat of summer. Even that doesn't mean you are cool!
    Plus, I come in two colors: white and red. Never brown. Summer means more skin showing, thus more sunblock. Clothes are far easier to put on.

    Winter

    The first day of winter is the day with the least time between sunrise and sunset. After that the days slowly begin to lengthen. Those who think of winter as being so dark might want to track the times of sunrise and sunset. As for me, I enjoy winter. It is the only time I can see the branches and limbs that define the shapes of the trees. I am amazed to see bird nests that I never suspected were nearby. And the sound of falling snow is a special kind of music.

    WINTER SOLSTICE

    A day that's short & cold, is custom made to curl up & read, while sipping a hot cup of cocoa with marshmallows melting...

    Winter

    I am dreading this winter like no other. I am dreading the early darkness. I am dreading the snow. I am dreading the ice. I am dreading the cold. I'm claustrophobic already just thinking about it.

    Hello

    Winter means freezing tempatures and high ones it means being stuck in snow and bundling up.

    Winter solstice

    The winter solstice IS NOT the first day of winter? It is half way through from the autumnal equinox to the vernal equinox.

    Is Florida ever going to have

    Is Florida ever going to have any winters

    Florida and winter

    Nope, at least not as the world is now. With the warming that is happening, most of Florida will be underwater.

    clear this up for me...

    11:48pm EST.... Does that mean Winter Solstice for the west coast, PST is three hours later @ 2:48am on the 22nd or at the same time as the east coast... Which would be 8:48pm on the 21.. Mother in law says her west coast edition says 8:48 pm. If so, why do most places I look and most calendars say Dec 22 is winter solstice

    When is the winter solstice?

    The Editors's picture

    Hi Tina, It depends on your calendar and time zone. Many calendars use Universal Time. The solstice occurs at the same instant everywhere on Earth. In the U.S., it officially occurs 11:48 p.m. EST Monday, 10:48 p.m. Central, 9:48 p.m. Mountain, and 8:48 p.m. Pacific. In Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, this means that the solstice actually comes on Tuesday.
     

    Winter Solstice

    It is ridiculous to call the Winter Solstice the first day of winter. The winter and summer solstice and the spring and autumn equinoxes are all mid points in the Earth`s orbit around the Sun. Therefore it is much more accurate to refer to the solstice as mid winter and mid summer, as is the case in many European countries.

    winter soltice

    The Editors's picture

    Hi Phillip, Writing here from England. :-) The Old Farmer’s Almanac, a “calendar of the heavens,” refers to the astronomical winter when we talk about the winter season; this is based on when the sun reaches the most southern point on the globe, the Tropic of Capricorn. 

    Also, this is different than the meteorological winter which refers to weather and is the three month period that runs from the 1st of Decemeber through the end of February.

    Cheers, your OFA editors

    Are you sure?

    My mistake. I did not see EST.

    Are you sure?

    The first day of Winter in 2015 happens on Dec. 22 not the 21st.

    dst

    I cannot wait until the 21st. I care for my mother, whose attitude toward participating in her rehabilitation is enhanced by Sunlight.

    Fake sunlight

    If sunlight helps her then you should expose her to a full spectrum light in winter. Many people become depressed in climates where the sun is often obscured by clouds, like Seattle, Washington and in winter when the daylight hours are shorter. (In the Northern hemisphere) Exposure to full spectrum lights improves this condition a LOT. Can't hurt her to try it, right? You need to ask a doctor that is experienced in this to know how long to use the light. Most people who need it sit and read as they are being treated.

    Daylight savings time ended

    Daylight savings time ended on November 2, 2014 and starts again March 8, 2015.

    That means we only have 4 months of Daylight Standard time and 8 months of daylight saving time.

    Why bother?

    Indiana, Arizona and other states never change and are on Standard time year around.

    I live in Illinois so what's the big deal.

    Just as much farming in Indiana as Illinois.

    An Old Indian Saying goes like this:
    "only the government would believe you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom and have a longer blanket"!

    My preference is Standard time year round in Illinois.

    I totally agree! The

    I totally agree! The difference between the latest and earliest sunsets would only be about two hours instead of three, much more natural and easier to adjust.

    Contrary to what this report

    Contrary to what this report and all media may say, Sunday 12.21.14 is NOT shortest day of year, it is shortest daylight day of year - shortest day of year is in March when clocks are turned back 1 hour, making that day 23 hours and conversely, longest day of year is in November, when clocks are turned ahead, making that day 25 hours

    Thank you for your feedback.

    The Editors's picture

    Thank you for your feedback. We have revised the article a bit to make it clearer what we mean by "shortest day." Interesting point about Daylight Saving Time!

    Days are not shorter or

    Days are not shorter or longer..Daylight is more or less..DST is mans clock not the heavenly clock.

    You have that backwards! We

    You have that backwards! We turn the clocks AHEAD 1 hr. in March. In November we turn them .BACK 1 hr. Remember: "Spring forward--Fall back".

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