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

    The orbit of the Moon around

    The Editors's picture

    The orbit of the Moon around Earth, and of Earth around the Sun, are independent of one another, so there is no direct correlation between Moon phase and the seasons. However, Greek astronomer Meton observed that 19 solar (tropical) years approximately equals 235 synodic (lunar) months. That means that every 19 years, the Moon phases usually recur on the same dates of the solar calendar year. (For example, in 2012, the Full Moon on Nov 28, the Last Quarter on Dec 6, etc., would also occur on those dates in 2031, or very close to it--it's not a perfect formula.) Called the Metonic cycle, it was used in calculations for ancient lunar and lunisolar calendars (such as the Hebrew calendar), as well as in calculations for the date of Easter in the Julian calendar. For lunisolar calendars, often an extra month would be added about every 3 years to keep it in sync with the seasons.

    (Callippus refined the Metonic cycle later, and Hipparchus refined it even more.)

    Hope this helps!

    how bad will the winter be in

    how bad will the winter be in ohio

    To find our long-range

    The Editors's picture

    To find our long-range weather forecast for your area, go to: http://www.almanac.com/weather... and type in your zip code, or your city/state. It will give you our predictions for the current month and next month (Nov/Dec now).

    To find out our weather predictions for the entire year, you can purchase a copy of The 2013 Old Farmer's Almanac online at Almanac.com/Store or by calling 1-800-ALMANAC. You can also buy the Almanac wherever books and magazines are sold in your area. Thank you!

    Thanks for pointing out that

    Thanks for pointing out that winter's arrival will be earlier this year than since 1896. Can you provide any historical context about the end of winter? (i.e., will the 2012 vernal equinox of 7:02am EDT be earlier or later than usual?)

    The vernal equinox of 2012

    The Editors's picture

    The vernal equinox of 2012 (March 20 at 1:14 am EDT; March 19 at 10:14 pm PDT) was the earliest since 1896, but the vernal equinox of 2013 is not quite as spectacular, starting on March 20 at 7:02 am EDT; March 20 at 4:02 am PDT.

    It looks like the next time that the vernal equinox will occur on March 19 in PDT will be in 2016 (at about 9:30 pm PDT); for EDT, in 2020 (at about 11:50 pm EDT). But even in EDT, the vernal equinox of 2016 will be earlier than the one in 2012: March 20 at about 12:30 am EDT.

    How bad will the winter be?

    How bad will the winter be? I will tell you on June 1, 2013. To me a bad winter would be one without snow!

    how bad will winter be for

    how bad will winter be for southern west missouri will there be alot of snow

    There will be record breaking

    There will be record breaking snow fall this year

    Look for 8-10ft in your area

    Was the first day of winter

    Was the first day of winter 2012, December 21, 2011?

    The winter solstice in 2011

    The Editors's picture

    The winter solstice in 2011 was on December 22 at 12:30 A.M. (EST). The first day of winter for 2012 is on December 21 at 6:12 A.M.

    Will Almanac Staff be

    Will Almanac Staff be responding to an earlier comment I read here in Nov.2013 referring to Winter Solstice being the middle of winter, not the beginning of winter?

    Signs of winter: Juncos

    Signs of winter: Juncos (snowbirds), like robins announce spring, snowbirds announce that winter has arrived.

    I agree! These have been my

    I agree! These have been my winter and spring signs for many years.

    @DruidJames Your note on

    @DruidJames
    Your note on Stonehenge is slightly misleading in that it speaks as though it is established and verifiable fact. Considering that the builders left no written record and not even the most intimately involved researchers debate as to who began construction, one would be wise to recognize that it is not as straight forward as all that. Construction was done over a 1,700 year period with additions and changes made along the way.

    Furthermore, the Druid's (as opposed to modern day neo-druids) association with Stonehenge has been thoroughly dispelled in T.D. Kendrick, The Druids: A Study in Keltic Prehistory.

    While most of what you say regarding the stones positioning is more or less true, the purpose has never been ascertained, again mainly due to the lack of a written record, however scholars now are convinced that it was likely a place of ancestor worship and death rituals (funerals and burials)- "cremated remains found on the site indicate that deposits contain human bone material from as early as 3000 BC, when the initial ditch and bank were first dug. Such deposits continued at Stonehenge for at least another 500 years." (See Schmid, Randolph E. "Study: Stonehenge was a burial site for centuries" for more info)

    All this to say that posting Notes for informational purposes is great, but readers must use a great deal of discernment in accepting their accuracy.

    Note on Stonehenge. It was

    Note on Stonehenge.
    It was Built by the village Brehon's or Priest. We know them as Druids. It was built on the convergence of land lines or energy lines of the land. They used the stones as markers of the cycle of the year. To mark when to begin planting or harvesting. The major cycles of the year are marked by the equinox and solstice of the seasons and the cross quarters of same.
    They then celebrated the seasons of change and through the posative energies they assured themselves and the land a posative outcome.

    Co-opting a pre-existing

    Co-opting a pre-existing human-made creation and claiming it for one's religious beliefs is hubris at its most annoying. Christians have done this time and time again. Please avoid repeating their mistakes. There is as much evidence to support your assertions as there is to support creationism. Paganism is a wonderful thing (I know - I am a pagan); but willful ignorance is not. Passing off one's faith as fact is to be avoided at all times because while facts are facts, faiths will differ.

    +1

    +1

    Oh dear - DruidJames is

    Oh dear - DruidJames is plainly incorrect according to all the available evidence and Mairi speaks a good deal of sense (and I am not a pagan).

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