Winter Solstice 2018: The First Day of Winter

Winter Solstice Date, Facts, Folklore, and More

December 21, 2018
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

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".

Technical so and so

Technical so and so

Just split the difference in

Just split the difference in two. Chandelier the tome by 1/2 hour and never look back.

i think the time should be

i think the time should be left alone. The change back and forth effects all of our eternal clocks, causes us to be late and other issues. It just makes for more confusion and adds more difficulties to life. Thanks

Since April of 2006, all

Since April of 2006, all counties in Indiana have observed daylight savings time.

If my memory of history is

If my memory of history is correct when daylight saving time first started, standard & DST were split about equally. Then, in more recent history trying to make maximum productive use of available daylight the politicians went to far into DST: Parents complained that their children we're going to school in the dark. So, a compromise was struck: When it was light enough at 07:00 DST for kids to go to school, that's when ST ended & the reverse.

I live in Indiana on CST and

I live in Indiana on CST and we observe daylight savings time.

Daylight Savings Time

I live in San Diego, Ca. and I am one who loves Daylight Savings Time. I am a musician and I am seldom up before noon. In winter that means I see many few hours than those who work day jobs. My favorite day of the year is when Daylight Time begins and my least favorite time is when Standard time begins. Standard time means less hours I can be in sunlight and the natural warmth it brings. I would hate living in Arizona where they stay on Standard time year round. If I lived in Alaska it might not mean so much to me, due to the 'Midnight Sun'.

I noticed that the winter

I noticed that the winter solstice is conjoined with the dark moon this year. I was reading about how rare it is for the full moon to be conjoined with the solstice but is the dark moon just as rare? This joins a very short duration of light to an extra dark night.

It appears to be just as

The Editors's picture

It appears to be just as rare. Looking into dates up to 2025, a new Moon (or full Moon) won't be occurring at the same time as the winter solstice for at least the next 11 years (and beyond). A first quarter Moon will occur at the same time as the winter solstice in 2020, at least in North American time zones.

Pam your comment is so

Pam your comment is so poetic! I was just searching to find the winter solstice date for 2014 and came upon these curious and interesting comments. Yours is delightful. I hope you are a writer, if not please consider it! Thanks.

Dark Moon

It's not a Dark Moon that occurs on Dec 24 2015.
It is a Cold Moon; because the midwinter night is long, and the Moon is above the horizon for a long time. It has a high trajectory across the sky because it is opposite a low Sun, thus the name Cold Moon.

When I find wooley bear

When I find wooley bear cattipilars in the fall I noticed that when they are more black than orange the winter seems really cold and snowey, when they are more orange than black the winter seems to be milder. I've been keeping track for over 25 years now and they are always right.

What you didn't say was how

What you didn't say was how were the little wooley bears this year :)

What will the weather be on

What will the weather be on Christmas Eve And Christmas Day? I've been wondering because I couldn't find it on the website. I hope it will SNOW!!!!

Happy Thanksgiving,
Madison Flanders

Hi, Madison: We had a great

The Editors's picture

Hi, Madison: We had a great Thanksgiving -- thanks! -- and we hope you did, too. This is an excellent question! At the top of Almanac.com, click on Weather. Then: Long-Range Weather Forecast. Then, even though the title says "2015 Long-Range Weather Forecast" -- and we want December 2014 -- enter your zip or postal code and hit Search. This will take you to a page where you can buy the 2015 Long-Range Forecasts ($4.95) for your locale, BUT it also gives you the next two months (Dec. 2014 and Jan. 2015) for FREE, without buying anything. Here you will find the forecasts for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for your area. Thanks for asking, and Merry Christmas from the OFA!

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