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

    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!

    What if most history that we

    What if most history that we have been taught is false...if u ask questions about Stonehenge from a religious perspective u will receive a man made answer...look at the crop circles that are being created by light beings(Orbs) right beside Stonehenge and study the ancient math of the Egyptians...connect the dots and u will have your own personal answer...your personal journey...it is not about following what u see but what u feel is true to your heart...feel the energy at these places and know there is no separation in all that exists...God is there in your heart...not from a man made god... but the essence of the God that lies within us all.

    Crop circles have been proven

    Crop circles have been proven to be man made.

    SOME crop circles are man

    SOME crop circles are man made, that does not mean that ALL crop circles are man made. Think, do not be gullible. Use your intellect, exercise your ability to reason, and some logic, it is fun once you get the hang of it. Remember that there is much, much more that we do not know, compared to all that we think we do.

    Don't confuse me with facts -

    Don't confuse me with facts - I've made up my mind.

    Don't follow what you see, but what you feel!? What a load of claptrap.

    Here in Ireland there is a

    Here in Ireland there is a structure that pre-dates the great pyramid of giza by 500 years and it only allows light to pass into its inner chamber on the winter solstice, it's called Newgrange and it is thought to be the oldest man made enclosed building in the world!

    how very neat. I have Ireland

    how very neat. I have Ireland on my bucket list and would love to see it one day. I think this would be very neat to go and see while I am there.

    I have been to Ireland

    I have been to Ireland several times and only found Newgrange in 2010. It was by far one of the most intriguing and interesting sites in Ireland.

    I was there in '99. Within

    I was there in '99. Within the same week I located the stone circle that is the Summer Solstice sacred spot. I met my dear pal Mary there. Now I can't remember where it was just that it was way in the country & hard to find. Do you know?

    The only place that springs

    The only place that springs to mind would be the Grange stone circle in Limerick, did you visit or travel through a village called Bruff by any chance?

    A note: If there is duplicate

    The Editors's picture

    A note: If there is duplicate posting on our site, we will remove it, especially if we have already responded. You may also find it interesting to reference our overall Seasons page: http://www.almanac.com/content/first-day-seasons
    Thank you, the OFA

    LOVE FOLLOWING WEATHER

    LOVE FOLLOWING WEATHER PREDICTIONS AND FORCASTS. BUT WONDERING ABOUT THE UPPER MID-WEST {N.W.IL. AREA,} Silvis IL FOR snow prediction 2013-14. We moved here in 2011 an have had 2 really mild snowfall. THE 2010-11 YR I WAS TOLD chicago got 2ft of snow.Could this be the yr...I moved from Eastern Pa.after 65 yrs.

    I have heard that hares and

    I have heard that hares and foxes turned white in winter but this the first time I have seen an albino "chicken".

    The chicken is a white

    The chicken is a white leghorn. They are one of the best egg layers and are a white breed, not actually an albino.

    last winter here in oregon

    last winter here in oregon (willamette valley) there was no snow at low levels (250 feet) or, about sea level. i'm 57- it was the only winter with no snow i can recall.and for some odd reason in my garden i could not seem to persuade my pumpkins or winter squash to do much - in fact there were no pumpkins bigger than a softball (coulda been my fault) and turban squash grew at first then rotted on the vine. sunflowers grew, tomatoes somewhat lethargic also. for 15 years i religiously bought the Almanac. still have them too. can i access your archives on computer ? greg field independence or.

    is there any correlation to

    is there any correlation to moon cycles and the solstice? i noticed this year it is 7 days after the half moon, twelve days between new and full [25th dec]. any lunar winter solstice that corresponds in historic calanders, like the aramaic lunar calander used in 4ad?

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