Winter Solstice 2011

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December is finally upon us.  As the end of the year draws near we are driven further into this cold and wintery month.

Time for those crazy relatives and friends to come over for the holidays for some fun and cheer. The holidays are not the only thing we should be looking forward to this month.

In the next couple day there will be a winter solstice.

On December 22, 2011 the solstice will appear around 5:30am  Coordinated UniversalTime (UTC) or 9:30pm Pacific Time. In order to translate the Universal Time into the time it will be in your time zone check out the Earthsky site.

For those in the northern hemisphere, this will be the winter solstice, while for those in the southern hemisphere it will be their summer solstice. These past few chilly weeks almost makes one want to fly south for the winter to warm up. This year’s winter solstice marks a variety of things happening.

Another fun fact about the winter solstice is that it will be the shortest day of the year.

Which means a very late dawn, short daytime hours, an early sunset, and a very long night of celebration. After that, our days will become longer and lighter outside with our nights becoming shorter.

These new longer days are a result of the Earth changing its tilt during the rotation around the sun. During the Winter solstice, the Sun will be 23 ½ degrees below our North Pole horizon.

According to Earthsky, “As seen from 23-and-a-half degrees south of the equator, at the imaginary line encircling the globe known as the Tropic of Capricorn, the sun shines directly overhead at noon. This is as far south as the sun ever gets.” Those in the Southern hemisphere will have their day lengths longer than 12 hours on that day, while those in the North will be having their day lengths less than 12 hours.

In the Summer solstice, the reverse will happen. These solstices occur twice a year due to the 23-½ tilt the Earth’s axis is on. The tilt is the same thing that controls our seasons.

Our Winter solstice has been celebrated and remembered since the Ancient days. Ireland’s Newgrange tomb is a perfect and mysterious example of the remembrance to the Winter solstice.  It is situated on the East Coast of Ireland on the Boyne Valley. It is a large “kidney shaped” mound that is an acre in size with a 19 meter long inner passage.

According to, “Newgrange was constructed over 5,000 years ago (about 3,200 B.C.), making it older than Stonehenge in England and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.” It is theorized that a farming community during the Neolithic or Stone Age built the tomb.

The mound has a roof box to illuminate the passage to the chamber of their dead. It is aligned so that when the moment the winter solstice sunrise appears, the light will breach through the roofbox. The captured light will then beam up the passage that leads the observer to a tomb full of ancient bones. The more time that passes during the day, the higher the sun goes, and the more the bam of light illuminate the chamber for the dead’s final resting spot.

Access into the passage during the time of the solstice is available only by lottery.

According to National Geographic, other places that held reverence to the Winter solstice were the Germanic people that resided in Northern Europe. There they celebrated the solstice with their Yule festivals. Their festivals are the origin behind the tradition of burning the Yule log.

The Winter solstice is still celebrated today. National Geographic stated that “In a number of U.S. cities a Watertown, Massachusetts-based production called The Christmas Revels honors the winter solstice with an annually changing menu of traditional music and dance from around the world.”

Another way to celebrate can be done here in San Diego at the Mission Trails Regional Park. The area of the solstice observatory will be on Cowles Mountain. To find out more about the Cowles Mountain Winter Solstice Walk, check out the Mission Trails site.

How will you celebrate your winter solstice?

Photos courtesy of Tuanna2010, Blueshade, Kenia Ribeiro, Jule_Berlin, and Schandolf via WikiCommons.

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