The Winter Solstice, which falls on December 22 for the northern hemisphere, marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year when the sun is at its lowest in the sky. The annual phenomenon is caused by the Earth’s North Pole tilting farther away from the Sun than at any other point in the year. The Winter Solstice is commonly coupled with the Ursid meteor shower due to the time of the year the latter comes – beginning around December 17 and running until just after Christmas Day.
Despite it being chilly in the UK for a while now, Winter Solstice marks the official first day of winter, in astronomical terms at least.
There is no definitive start to winter, but astronomers will tell you it starts at the Winter Solstice, while meteorologists argue that it begins on December 1.
The Farmers Almanac said: “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.
“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.”
However, traditions run far deeper than being the shortest day of the year or the start of winter.
Humans have been observing the Winter Solstice as far back as the Neolithic period – around 10,200 years ago.
The Roman empire celebrated Saturnalia, a holiday in honour of Saturn, the god of agriculture which lasted for a week around the Winter Solstice.
READ MORE: Astronomy news: December events timeline
But most people concentrate on the whole solstice day, which has been recognised by holidays and festivals in many cultures around the world.
The shortest day of the year lasts exactly 7 hours 49 minutes and 43 seconds in London.
This means that the length of day during the Winter Solstice is 8 hours, 48 minutes and 37 seconds shorter than the Summer Solstice.