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Sunday, December 20, 2020


Winter Solstice 2020: When Is the First Day of Winter? What Is the Winter Solstice? | The Old Farmer's Almanac

The winter solstice happens on Monday, December 21, 2020. This is the astronomical first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the shortest day of the year. What happens at the winter solstice? Why is the solstice important? Enjoy solstice facts and folklore from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.


The first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere is marked by the winter solstice, which occurs on Monday, December 21, 2020, at 5:02 A.M. EST.

For the northern half of Earth (the Northern Hemisphere), the winter solstice occurs annually on December 21 or 22. (For the Southern Hemisphere, the winter solstice occurs on June 20 or 21.) The winter solstice is the day with the fewest hours of sunlight in the whole year, making it the “shortest day” of the year. Thankfully, after we reach the winter solstice, the days begin to once again grow longer and longer until we reach the summer solstice—the first day of summer and the longest day of the year.

Think of it this way: Although the winter solstice means the start of winter, it also means the return of more sunlight. It only gets brighter from here!


The winter solstice marks the official beginning of astronomical winter (as opposed to meteorological winter, which starts about three weeks prior to the solstice). The winter solstice occurs once a year in each hemisphere: once in the Northern Hemisphere (in December) and once in the Southern Hemisphere (in June). It marks the start of each hemisphere’s winter season. When one hemisphere is experiencing their winter solstice, the other is simultaneously experiencing their summer solstice!

This is all thanks to Earth’s tilted axis, which makes it so that one half of Earth is pointed away from the Sun and the other half is pointed towards it at the time of the solstice.

We often think of the winter solstice as an event that spans an entire calendar day, but the solstice actually lasts only a moment. Specifically, it’s the exact moment when a hemisphere is tilted as far away from the Sun as it can be. This is shown in the diagram below.

Diagram of the seasons
The solstices and equinoxes from the perspective of the Northern Hemisphere. Credit: NASA

The winter solstice holds significance across a variety of cultures, as it signals the changing of the seasons. Some ancient peoples even marked the solstice using huge stone structures, like Newgrange in Ireland. In some cultures, the solstice traditionally marked the midway point of the season rather than the start of it, which explains why holidays such as Midsummer Day are celebrated around the first day of summer.

Winter Solstice 2020: When Is the First Day of Winter? What Is the Winter Solstice? | The Old Farmer's Almanac


On the day of the winter solstice, we are tilted as far away from the Sun as possible, which means that the Sun’s path across the sky is as low in the sky as it can be. Think about the daily path of the Sun: It rises in the east and sets in the west, arcing across the sky overhead. During the summer, the Sun arcs high in the sky, but during the winter, it arcs lower, closer to the horizon.

How can we observe the effects of solstice ourselves? On the day of the solstice, stand outside at noon and look at your shadow. It’s the longest shadow that you’ll cast all year! Do this again on the day of the summer solstice and you’ll see almost no shadow.

The Sun’s Changing Path

Another way to think of this is that on the day of the solstice, the Sun’s path reaches its most southerly point in the sky. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, this means that the Sun’s path is as low in the sky as it can get—even at “high noon.” In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the opposite: The Sun’s path will be high in the sky on the winter solstice—directly overhead at noon at the latitude called the Tropic of Capricorn, which is an imaginary line that circles the Earth, running through parts of South America, southern Africa, and Australia.

The word solstice comes from Latin sol “sun” and sistere “to stand still.” So, loosely translated, it means “sun stand still.” Why? For a few days before and after the solstice, the Sun’s path across the sky appears to freeze. The change in its noontime elevation is so slight that the Sun’s path seems to stay the same, or stand still.

The day after the winter solstice, the Sun’s path begins to advance northward again, eventually reaching its most northerly point on the day of the summer solstice.

Then, as summer advances toward 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. It’s a never-ending cycle!

→ Observe the changing day length in your area with our Sunrise and Sunset Times Calculator.

Summer Solstice

When we reach the summer solstice on June 20, 21, or 22, the Sun will reach its most northerly spot, directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer (which runs through Mexico, northern Africa, and southern Asia). The summer solstice is the longest day of the year (the day with the most daylight hours) and marks the beginning of summer. Learn more about the summer solstice!


You may also be familiar with the term “equinox.” In the spring (March) and the fall (September), the Sun’s path bring it directly above Earth’s equator. Equinox means “equal,” as day and night on the equinoxes are of roughly equal length.

See our SEASONS page for a diagram and dates of all seasons.



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. But this is not true.

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!


There is not a black-and-white answer to this question—it depends on which definition 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 (in the Northern Hemisphere) 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 follow the astronomical definition of the seasons, which states that each of the four seasons starts on a solstice or equinox.

Learn more about the Reasons for the Seasons.

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.

Winter Solstice 2020: When Is the First Day of Winter? What Is the Winter Solstice? | The Old Farmer's Almanac


The solstice has been celebrated since ancient times by cultures around our planet.

Thousands of people celebrate the solstices at Stonehenge in England. 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.

At sunrise at Stonehenge on the summer solstice (longest day of the year), the Sun appears to balance perfectly on one of the stones. 

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.


Here at the Almanac, we love our weather folklore. Here are just a few (of the many) proverbs that we have collected in our archives:

  • 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. 

Read more winter weather folklore.

You can also see the solstice sunrise around the world; this website shows Winter solstice: Why pagans celebrate the shortest day of the year (a day late)

Jupiter and Saturn Will Be the Closest They've Been in 800 Years — How to See the 'Christmas Star' This December

Christmas Star 2020: The 'Great' Saturn and Jupiter Conjunction - The New York Times -

Image result for winter solstice dance animated gif

Winter Solstice 2020: When Is the First Day of Winter? What Is the Winter Solstice? | The Old Farmer's Almanac


CURMUDGUCATION: ICYMI: Santa's Almost Here (12/20)

Santa's Almost Here

And the Board of Directors has just about figured out this Christmas thing and twigged onto the notion that presents are coming (but why not right now). I am going to try not to think constantly about all the family and children and grandchildren that I am not seeing this week, because that sucks. In the meantime, here's some reading from this week.

The Logjam that Awaits Biden's education secretary

Derek Black at CNN, with hard dose of reality therapy for everyone imagining that a new administration will bring dramatic change. What a grinch. Okay, he may have some points, too.

How to assign writing when you don't teach writing  

Paul Thomas with some great thoughtful practical advice for assigning writing when that's not really your lane.

For Black educators when school systems aren't doing enuf

Dena Simmons at ASCD with some powerful personal reflections for the times.

Reaganland: Public education and America's right turn

Have You Heard talks to Rick Perlstein and takes us back to the seventies. Really interesting stuff about how schools became a target in the culture wars.

Black students most likely to be going to school remotely

Samantha Fields at Marketplace looks at an emerging trend. Safety and trust seem to be the issues (and not that they are dupes of the teachers unions).

Testing students this spring would be a mistake  

Can't say this enough, but this time it's not me, but testing expert Lorrie Shepard at EdWeek.

Fifty years of trickling down didn't work  

Not directly related to education, exactly, but important validation for what everyone already knew.\

How teachers are sacrificing student privacy to stop cheating

From Vox, one more article pointing out that surveillance software is a bad idea, and schools should knock it off.

The 2020 snow day is here. It must include "sleducation."

Okay, I wish Joshua Goodman at Education Next had the courage to write sleducation without the quotation marks, but still a nice little piece.

A rural school under pressure to stay open

This is how ugly it's getting in places like rural Idaho, where the 'rona is still a big hoax and people are too tough to mask up. Kirk Siegler at NPR.

Sen. Jon Tester on Democrats and rural voters

Tester has some thoughts, including the novel idea of standing up for public education. From New York Times.

Florida lets voucher schools hire dropouts as teachers--and keep it secret

The Orlando Sentinel has been a great source of watchdogging the Florida shenanigans. You may or may not be able to scoot past the paywall, but if you can, this story is amazing. You will not believe how bad it is down there.

As the gap between students and teachers of colors widens in PA, Black families demand change

Sojourner Ahebee reporting for WHYY, Philly's NPR station. This is a great piece of reportage, with plenty of nuance and detail for a difficult topic. If you don't read anything else this week...

Here’s What Needs To Be Done To Rebuild K-12 Education In This Country - by @palan57 on @forbes

Six Arguments For Giving The Big Standardized Tests This School Year (And Why Biden’s Education Secretary Should Ignore Them) - by @palan57 on @forbes

Pennsylvania's Teacher Problem
We already know that the teaching profession is primarily composed of white women (average age 43). But sometimes, when you break data down in particular ways, it becomes even more striking. Research for Action is a Philly-based group that has done some great work over the years, and they've done some research about the TOC/SOC balance in PA that are featured both in this article from Sojourner A
1776 Commission Members Appointed (And It's About What You'd Expect)
You remember just six 2020 weeks ago (that's roughly a year and a half in regular time), Dear Leader proclaimed that the 1776 Commission would be formed in order to create a more perfect set of teaching stuff that would teach our young people to think about our country in the Correct Way. The proclamation announcing this was a piece of work , among other things laying out how we should teach stud
Children are not our future
There are plenty of warm fuzzy teacher sayings that I could well do without, emphasizing as they do that teachers are too noble to ever want to do things like, say, insist on being paid a decent wage or have control over their working conditions. But there's a child-focused saying that I would like to banish to the Island of Misfit Cliches-- Children are our future. Or, sometimes, children are the
More Teacher Effectiveness Mirages
The Fordham Institution has a new report entitled " Teacher Effectiveness and Improvement in Charter and Traditional Public Schools. " Despite what it claims to study, the report is a neear-perfect demonstration of Campbell's Law in action. The study starts with a question that, as used car salesmen put it, assumes the sale: Study after study has found that urban charter schools, and non-profit c
How Does Education Fix Poverty? Spoiler alert...
The idea that we can educate poverty away has been a popular one with policymakers and politicians for years now. Here's just one example , from Janet Yellen, former Fed Chair and, possibly, future Treasury Secretary , back in 2017: Yellen spoke to a conference on community development today, where she says that providing children with the opportunity to learn important skills earlier is essentia
Schools, Supposedly, Have Caused the Fall of US Religion
The Christian Church has been suffering a steady and rapid decline for a few decades now, a trend noted by many social scientists, and a source of struggle within many churches that are looking for ways to fill newly-emptied pews. You can look at many data sets on the subject. The folks at Pew Research find that there's a stark generational factor; in the Silent Generation and Baby Boomer cohort,
ICYMI: Still Shopping Edition (12/13)
Trying desperately to shop at small local stores, and it's a real challenge right now. And what has to be ordered comes with the special When Will It Actually Arrive suspense. Happy holidays, one and all. In the meantime, some reading.... San Joaquin Valley in the DPE Crosshairs Thomas Ultican peels back the layers on yet another assault on public education, this one out in California. Interestin
Schools Are Still Not Like Ubers
Betsy DeVos (who will soon not be a humble servant in the education secretary's office, but will instead be a very rich lady who wants to dismantle public education) likes to compare her vision of education to the same kind of disruption offered by outfits like Uber, a comparison that many folks like to