The winter solstice occurred this morning, marking the start of winter and the shortest day of the year.
As National Geographic explains, ancient people observed that after half a year of slowly creeping along the horizon, the sun appears to rise and set in almost exactly the same spot for several days – hence the word "solstice," which comes from the Latin words for “sun” and “to stand still.” The sun’s winter halt happens around Dec. 21, though the date fluctuates between Dec. 20 and 23.
The winter solstice actually occurs at a precise moment. In the northern hemisphere, it’s when the tilt of the hemisphere on the Earth’s axis positions us as far away from the sun as we’ll be all year.
On the east coast of the U.S., the solstice happened at 12:30 a.m. today, Dec. 22. That means today is the shortest day of the year, and winter has officially begun.
It’s a dark day, certainly, but you can take some comfort in knowing that the days will start lengthening now until the summer solstice on June 21.
And at least you don’t live in, say, Alert in Canada’s territory of Nunavut. Like all towns north of the Arctic Circle, it’s currently experiencing 24 hours of darkness.
People have marked the solstice with celebrations since ancient times, and many cultures still do. Check out these solstice photos from around the world on the Washington Post's website.
Want to find a way to celebrate a little closer to home? The New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club has planned a "Shortest Day and Longest Night Hike" in Wharton State Forest in Burlington County tomorrow. Hikers are invited to meet near Atsion Lake at 7 p.m. for a 7-mile trek and a post-hike campfire and potluck tailgate. The group gathers at the Goshen Pond Group camping site, one mile west of Route 206 off Atsion Road.
For more details, contact Paul Serdiuk at email@example.com. The hike will be called off in the event of inclement weather.