Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, occurred about 20 minutes ago, as I start typing, at 10:59 a.m. EST. It’s the moment (or day) when the north pole is tilted maximally from the Sun. In the southern hemisphere, today (or so) is the Summer Solstice.

Here in New Hampshire, at about 43.4N degrees of latitude, there’s a blanket of snow on the ground, a couple more inches of snow (plus ice) forecast for tomorrow, with temps in the 20s and low 30s Fahrenheit for highs, and in the teens for lows. It feels wintry.

One winter day
something will shine out
from an everyday object
and the darkness will flood with light.
Something we have seen
a thousand times
suddenly becomes
the sentinel of
another world.
- Marv and Nancy Hiles

Usually, the winter solstice falls on 21 Dec in the United States’ time zones. If you look back through historic records, though, from 1900-1950, it fell on the 22nd 40 times in those 51 years and on the 21st only 11 times; but from 1951 to 2000, the solstice arrived only 20 times on the 22rd, or half as often. Since then, it’s been on the 22nd only three times and won’t be again until the years 2102 and 2103.

The solstice can actually fall on one of four dates: Dec. 20, 21, 22, or 23, though the 20th and 23rd are very rare. It fell on the 20th a few times in the late 1700s, including 1776, but not since, though it will again in 2052 and fifteen more times before 2100; and in 1903, it fell on the 23rd in some parts of the world but not in the U.S., and at least through 2149 it’s not projected to fall on the 23rd again. The slight change in date over time is due to the rotation of the Earth (and the wobble in its axis) and the leap year fix the Gregorian calendar employs.

Speaking of the Gregorian calendar, it would have been pretty wild to be alive in 1752 in England or the colonies (including the U.S.) when they made the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian, which, by 1750, were 11 days out of sync with each other. This switch entailed changing the formula for calculating leap years, moving the legal date of the new year from 25 March to 1 January, and dropping 11 days from the month of September 1752! So dramatic! Thus in 1751, the winter solstice is recorded as falling on 10 Dec, and in 1752, on 21 Dec — both on the 21st in terms of the then-new calendar.

I am a book of snow,
a spacious hand, an open meadow,
a circle that waits,
I belong to the earth and its winter.  -- Pablo Neruda

To Know the Dark
by Wendell Berry

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.


  1. Very interesting. I hadn’t know any of this information about the winter solstice, apart from generally realising it wasn’t always on 21st.

    It was the winter solstice here sometime mid-afternoon, though the news programme didn’t specify the exact time.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoy the rest of winter as we now ‘officially’ head towards spring. It’s not so cold here but I’m fed up of the damp!

    1. Helen, I’m guessing the damp will be with you for a bit longer still there in the UK? But on the bright side, spring will come much sooner there than here, not the Vernal Equinox of course but the reality of Spring, daffodils and flowering trees and such, which generally gets going around mid-May here.

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