The winter solstice is an astronomical occurrence which marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. It occurs every year between 21-22 December in the Northern Hemisphere and 20-21 of June in the Southern Hemisphere. This time period is also known as Midwinter, Yule, and the Longest Night.
When the Earth axis’s is tilted away from the sun, one side of the world experiences winter for half a year and the other half of the world experiences summer. Because the two hemispheres face opposite directions along the planetory pole, one polar hemisphere experiences winter whilst the other experiences summer.
This is more evident in the higher latitudes, but a hemisphere winter’s solstice happens on the shortest day and the longest night of the year, when the suns daily maximum elevation in the sky is the lowest. This really only lasts a moment in time, so other words are used for this day such as “midwinter”, or “the shortest day”. But it shouldn’t be confused with “the first day of winter” or “the start of winter”. The whole seasonal significance of the day is the reversal of the gradual lengthening of the of the nights and the shortening of the days. The earliest sunrise and the latest sunrise will differ from each solstice, and also will also depend on the latitude, due to the variation in the solar day throughout the year caused by the Earth’s elliptical orbit.
During ancient times, astronomical events have controlled animal mating, sowing of crops and metering of winter reserves between harvest and show how various cultural mythologies and traditions have arisen. Physical remains of this have been found in the late Neolithic and Bronze remains archeological sites such as Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland.
The Winter Solstice may have been very important in some communities because starvation was very common in the first months of winter when there was no guarantee of making it through the upcoming winter months. In more temperate months, the midwinter festival was the last celebration or feast before winter set in. Most of the cattle would be slaughtered so there would be less to feed over the winter. This was the only time of year that there would be fresh meat available. The majority of wine and beer reserved were fermented and ready to be drunk at this time.
The sun’s ebbing presence at this time in the sky initiated the concept of rebirth, or birth of the sun gods, which is common. This was the start of life-death-rebirth deities as see in different culture’s mythologies and lore.
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