The winter solstice – the shortest day

The winter solstice – the shortest day

Published by Nick Lomb on June 21, 2007 53 Comments

Sunset 29 August 2005_Nick Lomb

Sunset on 29 August 2005 as seen from Sydney Observatory, image Nick Lomb

Melissa asks:

Something that bothers me every year is this: which day actually has the shortest day and the longest night (or v-v), eg is it sundown prior to the solstice to sunup just after the solstice which is the longest night? Eg is tonight (21st June) the longest night (southern hemisphere), whereas tomorrow is the shortest day?

And also, there is much calendar confusion re the solstice day (21 or 22). Is that because in Australia we are closer to the dateline and thus it is 22nd here at the point of solstice whereas it is still the 21st in the US (where so many of our calendars originate)? Thus you get the apparent paradox of winter solstice here being a different calendar day to summer solstice there. Have I understood this correctly?

This year winter solstice, which is the time the Sun is at its furthest north for the year, occurs at 4:06 am Australian Eastern Standard Time on Friday 22 June 2007. That means that Friday is the shortest day. Since the solstice occurs during the night of 21/22 June that is the longest night.

As most of the world apart from New Zealand is behind Australian time, in the time zones of countries like the UK and the USA the solstice occurs the day before that in Australia. Hence there is confusion for some people who have calendars with information sourced from overseas and who consequently think that the solstice and the shortest day are today. I should also point out that though from Friday onwards the days will start to get longer, the differences initially from day to day are only a few seconds and hence not noticeable.

And Sarah McDonald on ABC702 please note that the earliest sunset for the year did not occur on the solstice, but about 10 days earlier. Similarly, the latest sunrise will not be on the day of the solstice, but about 10 days later. The explanation for this involves the esoteric concept of the equation of time, but that is another story or blog post…..

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53 Responses to “The winter solstice – the shortest day”

  1. June 21, 2012 at 1:43 pm, Ellen said:

    A good explanation and good to know that as from tomorrow the worst is behind us and that we can now look forward to gradually enjoying slightly longer days.   My head hurts but only through the chill factor of winter.

    Reply

  2. June 22, 2011 at 10:25 pm, Matt said:

    my head hurts – i understood bascailly 0.1% of this blog

    Reply

  3. June 19, 2010 at 5:41 pm, Dragonwyst said:

    Australia splits the seasons into three months each, so that we have
    Spring as September, October, November
    Summer as December, January, February
    Autumn as March, April, May
    and Winter as June, July, August.

    No seasons ever begin or end on the Solstices and equinoxes. The Winter Solstice is the festival for the renewal of the sun in pagan traditions, but that does not mean that it’s the beginning of the season. It recognises that the days will grow longer from that point, leading to spring.

    Reply

  4. June 02, 2010 at 10:23 pm, Mel said:

    Hi, I need some help. I know that the new seasons start on the solstice and the equinox respectively. But my friends think they start on the first of the month. I’ve told them that Australia is the only country to think this and it’s wrong but they refuse to believe me. Is there any way I prove to them that I am right?

    Reply

  5. May 26, 2010 at 10:41 pm, morphinecat said:

    Just to answer the question by christie and to clarify what jamie, barb and Serene responded with (from a practising ancestral Pagan): there are many different forms of Paganism but essentially, to cut a long story short, we’ll just stick with the ‘easter’ thing!

    The anglo-saxon pagans (before Christianity came along) celebrated the festival of Ôstarâ (called Ēostre in Old English). Ostara was indeed a goddess and more specifically, a protector of children. The ‘myth’ if you will, is that she would transform herself into a rabbit and descend upon the earth, leaving ‘sweet things’(e.g.chocolate!!) on the doorsteps of children (in particular) who left her carrots to eat. The day that people honored her was the spring equinox of each year, the 19th-22nd March (being that they were IN the northern hemisphere, and between those dates are when the spring equinox is in any given year.)

    Another familiar tradition was that everyone with wealth would make ‘hot cross buns’ (marked with an x to keep them separate from other wares) and on the day of the spring equinox, everyone was allowed to eat them for free, including any poor/indigent peoples travelling in the area. This was done in honour of her and the ‘wealthy’ people complied in order to keep her happy, so to speak, and thus receive her favour.

    Now, here is the example I give others to explain how this is related to the ‘Easter’ we know today-

    —imagine a lot of very strong, educated and armed ‘outsiders’ entering Australia right now and saying ‘Right! You are NOT allowed to celebrate Christmas (used as an example) any more, and if we catch you, we’ll kill you!’

    Australians everywhere, would of course, kick up a very big stink and it would lead to a MASSIVE rift/all out war or something.

    So back then, When Christians were trying to convert the people at large, they basically TOOK all the ‘forms’ of the worship that are fun, eg. lighting up the tree with candles, exchanging gifts, etc. and just said ‘We’re going to do the same stuff, but it won’t be called Yuletide’ anymore, we are going to change it to ‘Christmas’ and make everyone believe it is a celebration of the birth of Christ, not a celebration of the heart of darkness in winter and the promise of a new spring’.

    Gradually, over a LOT of time, this is Exactly what happened and ‘Eostre’ became Easter and is now the celebration of the death of Christ rather than honouring Ostara.

    As explained, the same thing happened with pretty much all the other festivals too, with tons of little minor one’s being changed to honour saints rather than deities.

    Anyway, one last thing to mention about Yuletide/Christmas in particular that also applies to other dates, is that there were A LOT of pagans and Christians fighting about the difference in Rome (specifically the date it was celebrated) and one of the Emperors slammed his fist down and said “Right! That’s it!! I say it’s the 25th of December (which was in the middle) because I’m sick of the fighting. It of course became law for both sides during that time and as we know, the Christians proved to be a much stronger and bloodthirstier force, thereby wiping out all but a feeble few of the pagans for good.

    I hope that has cleared it up a little for you, I DO celebrate specific things, but really, who gives a rat’s behind? Do what you like! Go to ‘church’ or stuff your face with chocolate or both, we live in a democracy that’s filled with all sorts of freedom :-)
    be happy.

    Reply

  6. March 22, 2010 at 2:39 pm, Roger Forbath said:

    I am located in central Sydney and I need to know what shadow will be created by a building on my exact northern side on 21st.June. Could someone possibly let me know what angle the sun would be from the horizon on that [solstice] date at noon and at 3pm?

    Reply

    • March 23, 2010 at 10:19 am, Nick Lomb said:

      Hello Roger. In Sydney on 21 June, the date of the winter solstice the position of the Sun is as follows:
      12 noon – 33° above the horizon and 1° west of true north
      3 pm – 18° above the horizon and 44° west of true north

      Reply

  7. January 27, 2010 at 4:35 pm, Dietmar said:

    Hi, I need to calculate the shadow for a building which is easy if I only had the angle and direction of the sun on 21st June at 9:00, 12:00 and 15:00.

    Reply

    • January 31, 2010 at 4:53 pm, Nick Lomb said:

      Hello Ditmar. We can calculate the angles for you, but please indicate your location, preferably including your latitude.

      Reply

  8. December 21, 2009 at 4:11 pm, ron d'Arx said:

    can someone tell me the angle of the sun to the horizontal plan at Brisbane on the shortest day

    Reply

  9. December 03, 2009 at 3:46 pm, Morrell said:

    I would like to know when Winter Solstice; Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice for 2010 please

    Reply

    • December 04, 2009 at 9:21 am, Nick Lomb said:

      Hello Morrell. Here they are:

      EQUINOXES AND SOLSTICES 2010

      March 21 3:32 am Equinox
      June 21 9:28 pm Solstice
      September 23 1:09 pm Equinox
      December 22 9:38 am Solstice

      Reply

  10. October 08, 2009 at 3:45 am, jwilson said:

    Hi
    When is the Winter Solstice in Australia for 2010?

    Reply

    • October 08, 2009 at 1:38 pm, Nick Lomb said:

      Winter solstice is Monday 21 June 2010 at 9:28 pm AEST.

      Reply

  11. June 21, 2009 at 10:01 am, Geoffro said:

    Quoting Nick: “In Australia winter starts on 1 June and similarly the other seasons start at the beginning of the corresponding month.” Can someone please tell Google that winter in Australia does not start on the 21st of June? Today (21st June as I write) their iGoogle site has a wintery Google picture, and when you put the mouse pointer over it, the popup says “first day of winter”!!!

    Reply

  12. June 19, 2009 at 9:50 pm, jessie said:

    thanks nick. I guess we can all justify two nights of wild revelry then… yippee!

    Reply

  13. June 19, 2009 at 4:32 pm, jessie said:

    hrm, so does that make saturday night or sunday night the shortest for the year?

    Reply

    • June 19, 2009 at 5:59 pm, Nick Lomb said:

      Hello Jessie. About the same this year. As the solstice happens in the afternoon, Sunday night could be a tenth of a second or so longer than Saturday night, but I doubt if anyone would be able to measure the difference. Especially, if they are having a party to celebrate!

      Reply

  14. June 17, 2009 at 4:27 pm, Casey said:

    Hey so its on sunday 21st june dis year!! =] kk

    Reply

  15. June 16, 2009 at 10:30 am, rosie said:

    thanks for that info on the shortest day as the calenders do not tell it now a days

    Reply

  16. June 13, 2009 at 12:29 pm, Nick Lomb said:

    Hello Alan. In 2009 the Winter Solstice is on Sunday 21 June.

    Reply

  17. June 12, 2009 at 10:50 am, Alan Blakey said:

    guess I hit the wrong button it is 21st June not hune…

    Reply

  18. June 12, 2009 at 10:49 am, Alan Blakey said:

    Please keep this up to date it is now 2009, when is Winter solstice in 2009 – still 21st of Hune

    Reply

  19. June 01, 2009 at 3:30 pm, Catherine said:

    Thanks Nick. Thats exactly what I needed to know.

    Reply

  20. June 01, 2009 at 9:57 am, Catherine said:

    So when does winter officially start? The 1st of June or after the solstice. And can someone explain why it is whichever it is. Does it depend on whether you follow science or calendars??
    Thanks

    Reply

    • June 01, 2009 at 12:30 pm, Nick Lomb said:

      Hello Catherine. In Australia winter starts on 1 June and similarly the other seasons start at the beginning of the corresponding month. Nobody knows for sure why that is but it is believed to be due to the NSW Corps changing from winter to summer uniforms on 1 September in the early days of the Colony. In northern hemisphere countries traditions are different and seasons change according to the equinoxes and solstices. There is no right or wrong date, but whatever works for the country. The Australian scheme with winter spanning June, July and August implies the coldest days are in the middle of July and that matches observations. So the scheme works well here.

      Reply

  21. May 24, 2009 at 8:36 pm, Christine said:

    Hi, can you tell me when the Winter Solstice will be in 2009? Is that the same as the actual time the sun will set? Thanks

    Reply

    • May 25, 2009 at 10:35 am, Nick Lomb said:

      Hello Christine. Winter solstice in 2009 is on Sunday 21 June at 3:46 pm Australian Eastern Standard Time. Sunset in Sydney on that day is at 4:54 pm.

      Reply

  22. May 12, 2009 at 2:56 pm, Paul said:

    So how come the best skiing is late July/August when shortest day/mid winter is in June?

    Reply

    • May 13, 2009 at 10:27 am, Nick Lomb said:

      Hello Paul. Good point. There is a lag between the mid summer and the hottest days and between midwinter and the coldest day. This is because in summer the ground, the oceans and the atmosphere all need time to heat up and come into balance between the heat received and the heat radiated. Similarly in winter they need time to cool down and come into balance.

      Reply

  23. December 21, 2008 at 2:02 am, RhiONA said:

    Easter comes from the ancient Goddess Eostre who was welcomed and worshipped at the Spring Equinox ..All the holy days christian, jewish ,muslim, hindu, etc originally come from earth based and honoring societies and peoples .they just transferred all the images and themes to the new holiday to get the masses to switch …pretty clever of them …RhiONA

    Reply

  24. July 09, 2008 at 9:43 am, Bernard said:

    Hi-My first Grandson-Caleb- was born at 9.34pm this winter solstice-a fine and significant time to enter this troubled world with all its amazing potentials. May he bring wisdom and light wherever he ventures-this planet definitely needs more of both!

    Reply

  25. June 23, 2008 at 2:19 pm, JaneTA said:

    “Sarah McDonald on ABC702″ – yes, I heard this and … wondered? ” … The explanation for this involves the esoteric concept of the equation of time, but that is another story or blog post…..” well! how about a post that provides a complete and suitable explanation, so we can all share the … knowledge?

    Reply

  26. June 22, 2008 at 3:15 pm, Serene said:

    Hi Danni,
    I came across this the other day, which seemed a nice in-a-nutshell answer for you: “The Winter Solstice is a time to literally MAKE A STATEMENT of YOUR GOAL. It requires some preparation to enable the Goal, come spring, to be birthed. As the Bear hibernates during the winter and ventures out in spring, the formulation of your goal NOW will gather energy and momentum during the winter months, ready to ‘be born’ and grow in Spring.”

    It’s the shortest day and the longest night of the year, and marks the transition between dark and light, both emotionally and physically. It’s the lowest point of the Wheel of the Year in terms of daylight and energy – the land is barren, cold and infertile, there is less light than ever, and energetically we feel tired and unmotivated.
    But the winter solstice is the turning point in this time of darkness, introspection and dreaming. Considered the dark night of our souls that gives birth to the creative spark, it marks the period when the dark half of the year relinquishes its hold to the light half. From this day forward the days will slowly start to lengthen, the sun will become stronger and the energy within and without will increase and build.
    Open yourself to the promise of new growth and achievement, the rebirth of your own self and your creative spark as the sun is also reborn. Symbolically and energetically it’s a time to honour your inner wisdom, consider the lessons you learned during winter’s introspection and integrate them into your life so you can start to initiate change.

    Reply

  27. June 21, 2008 at 9:26 pm, Bernard said:

    Is there an EXACT time for winter solstice? -we have noticed people on radio giving a time but can’t remember what it was! Or does one merely refer to the entire day-21st June this time-as “winter solstice? Cheers

    Reply

  28. June 18, 2008 at 4:32 pm, danni chick said:

    hi
    i was wondering what the winter solstice represents symbolically?

    Reply

  29. May 26, 2008 at 9:20 pm, Serene said:

    Dear Cristy and Barb,
    Like most Christian festivals, Easter is also based on a pagan celebration – Ostara (the spring equinox), named for the goddess of fertility, called Oestra and other spelling variations depending on the country of origin. Her symbols were the egg and the hare, which explains why we inexplicably eat chocolate rabbits and eggs at this time. As someone else mentioned, this was to make the forced conversion to Christianity easier.
    The eight sabbats of the pagan wheel of the year are based on astronomical events – the solstices and equinoxes (which mark the middle of a season), and the cross-quarter days which mark the first day of the season. Even pagans who don’t believe in gods and goddesses celebrate this seasonal turning points of the year as the energy of the universe changes dramatically as the wheel turns. Most have been appropriated for Christian worship – which some pagans quite like – that the traditions remained safe within the new ritual day. In brief:
    Yule, or winter solstice, around Dec 20-23 in the northern hemisphere (June 20-23 here), celebrated the rebirth of the sun, and was celebrated with pine trees, gift giving and feasting. Now, Christmas, the rebirth of the son (of God), celebrated with pine trees, gift giving and feasting.
    Imbolc, in early Feb in north, early Aug here) was the first day of spring, a fertility festival dedicated to the goddess Bridie – and is now Saint Brigid’s day.
    Spring equinox as above – celebrated in the north around March 20-23, and here around September 20-23. This is when pagans celebrate “easter”.
    Beltane, around May 1 in the north and Nov 1 here, was another fertility festival, celebrated by jumping the fire, wearing flowers in their hair and getting handfasted (pagan wedding of sorts). Today it is May Day, when people wear flowers and get married.
    Litha, or summer solstice, is the longest day of the year, around June 20-23 in the north, Dec 20-23 here. It celebrated the power of the sun and the sun god, but also his imminent waning as the days started to become longer again.
    Lughnasadh/Lammas, around Aug 1 in the north, Feb 1 here, was a harvest festival when bread was baked and candles lit – the Christians made it Candlemass day.
    Mabon, autumn equinox, is a day of balance (sun over equator), around Sept 20-23 in the north and March 20-23 here. It was another harvest festival, dedicated to the relevant gods…
    Samhain, around October 31/Nov 1 in the north, was the beginning of winter, and the end/beginning of the new year. It was a time to honour the ancestors and communicate with spirits, release what no longer served you and prepare for the new energy of a new year. Today it’s celebrated as Halloween (note the ghost associations) – and by Christians as All Hallows Eve.

    Reply

  30. May 13, 2008 at 4:02 pm, Brad Azel said:

    With the above I meant that if we were living in a European Winter it would be Yule Time coming out of Samhain (there Oct 31st = our April 30th), our Winter Time in June is equal to there Winter Time in December, hope that makes more sense.

    Reply

  31. May 12, 2008 at 6:50 pm, Brad Azel said:

    Basically if we in Australia lived on the other side of the world, we would of just come out of celebrating the Celtic festival known as Samhain (or All Saints Day or All Hallows Day or Halloween) which would be April 30th to May 01st.

    We would now be heading into what the Pagans (or Celtics, Neopagans) celebrated as the day the sun begins to return back to the northern hemisphere or as they (Northern Europe) called it in that time Yule (which of course is now also the Christian Christmas on December 25th).

    Reply

  32. May 05, 2008 at 5:23 pm, Nick Lomb said:

    Hello Allan. In Sydney On Saturday 21 June 2008 sunset is at 4:54 pm. Civil twilight – roughly when lights are needed for outdoor activities is at 5:22 pm and nautical twilight -when you can no longer see the horizon – at 5:53 pm.

    Reply

  33. May 05, 2008 at 4:56 pm, Alan said:

    Hi Nick

    I just like to know on the shortest day of 2008, 21 June, what is thie approx time that the day becomes dark?

    Really appreciate your advise and thanks in advance

    Cheers

    Alan

    Reply

  34. May 01, 2008 at 4:39 pm, jamie said:

    Cristy , to cut a very long story short the easter that is celebrated now , comes from two differnt groups.
    In early england some ancient cults worshiped animals and trees
    the Hare was one of the worshiped animals which is why we have this bizare set up of a rabbit delvering eggs.
    the egg representing jesus’s rebirth
    When christians came along they found that the eastest way of converting people to chritian religion was to build churches on ground already used for worship by other religions and to celebrate their holy days the same day used by other religions.
    this tactic was well used by the christian romans.
    the more one looks at religion you can see that many holy days in most major religions today are caried on from even older religions that no longer exist.

    Reply

  35. April 11, 2008 at 12:22 pm, John Setek said:

    Yes – the penny has dropped. I was talking Solstice but thinking Equinox, two diferent events. It is good to have a correspondent to check my fundementals.

    Thanks again Nick, regards John

    Reply

  36. April 11, 2008 at 10:47 am, Nick Lomb said:

    Hello again John. Winter solstice is midwinter and that is when the Sun traces the lowest arc in the sky – rises and sets furthest north and at its lowest for the year when it crosses the meridian at noon (or close to it). Similarly at summer solstice, midsummer, the Sun traces its highest arc in the sky – rises and sets furthest south for the year.

    Reply

  37. April 10, 2008 at 6:41 pm, John Setek said:

    This is hard to visulize, – am I right to say at solstice the sun’s altitude is lower than it is in summer but higher than in mid winter? I would think when the sun is at it’s absolute lowest (thus tracing a very small arc in the sky) then the sun would rise most north of east and set most north of west. I am still not sure what the fixed stars are doing but I must conceed the Solstice has always been all about the relationship between the Sun and Earth.

    Reply

  38. April 08, 2008 at 10:26 am, Nick Lomb said:

    Hello John. The way to find the winter solstice is the same way as the ancients found it with the help of structures like Stonehenge over three thousand years ago. This is to keep tabs on where the Sun sets (or rises). As we approach winter solstice on 21 June 2008 the Sun sets progressively further north of west. The day-to-day change in direction slows down as we get closer to the solstice and stops altogether on the day of the solstice – hence the name which means “the day the Sun stands still”. After the solstice the direction of sunset starts gradually to move back towards the south.

    Reply

  39. April 06, 2008 at 7:44 pm, John Setek said:

    So. . .what would an amature astronomer with a small refractor telescope look for or look at to confirm the approach of a winter solsice and then what is the clincher on that day. . .and how can one tell if it had passed or had been missed?
    John

    Reply

  40. March 27, 2008 at 10:01 pm, barb said:

    Hey Cristy,It’s only my opinion, but,Easter is a terminology, for, & celebrated by Christians because they believe that Jesus rose from the dead at that time! So why would you call a pagen tradition, Easter, when it only celabrates 1 GOD!
    This text below is from the Wikipedia Encyclopedia Web Site:
    “Easter is termed a moveable feast because it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. Easter falls at some point between LATE MARCH & LATE APRIL each year (early April to early May in Eastern Christianity), following the cycle of the moon. After several centuries of disagreement, ALL CHURCHES accepted the computation of the Alexandrian Church (now the Coptic Church) that Easter is the first Sunday after the first fourteenth day of the moon (the Paschal Full Moon) that is on or after the ecclesiastical vernal equinox”
    Soooo the Solstice can’t be called Easter because it’s in June & not March/April! As far as the egg thing??? B

    Reply

  41. March 12, 2008 at 9:51 am, Nick Lomb said:

    Hello Cristy. If you ignore its religious significance, Easter basically celebrates the northern hemisphere spring. Seeing you live in Australia it would make sense to celebrate the southern hemisphere spring at the equinox, which is on 23 September.

    Reply

  42. March 11, 2008 at 8:16 pm, Cristy said:

    Hi,
    So am i right in thinking that for those of us who prefer to follow pagen traditions rather than christian, we should be celebrating easter on the 21 of june this year to welcome in the new season or say goodbye to it?

    I look at egg giving as a sign of fertility and family nothing to do with some dude who died thousands of years ago.

    look forward to a reply
    Cristy

    Reply

  43. January 24, 2008 at 4:59 pm, Nick Lomb said:

    Hello Margaret. Winter solstice in 2008 from Australian time zones will be on 21 June. How do you find out? Read this blog or buy a copy of the Australian Sky Guide http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/publications/publications_item.php?id=165.

    Reply

  44. January 23, 2008 at 8:29 pm, Margaret Boyes said:

    Hi Folks
    when is winter solstice in 2008? And just as a matter of interest, where should one go to find out these things?

    cheers
    Margaret

    Reply

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