Winter officially begins with the Winter Solstice on Saturday, December 21, 2019. This is the astronomical first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Enjoy our winter solstice facts, folklore, FAQs, and more!
When Is the First Day of Winter?
In 2019, the winter solstice arrives on Saturday, December 21, at 11:19 p.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||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?
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 begin to 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.
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.
However, 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 definiton 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 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 prefer to follow the astronomical definition of the seasons, which states that each of the four seasons starts on a solstice or equinox.
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.
Was Stonehenge Built to Celebrate the Winter Solstice?
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.
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.
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!
Learn More About the First Days of Seasons
Find out more about the First Days of the Seasons: