2021 Winter Solstice: What to Know Before It Arrives

If you've wondered, "When is the winter solstice?" recently, don't worry—we've got your answer. Here's when it is in 2021, plus other key solstice facts to know.

What to know about the 2021 winter solstice

Ah, the winter solstice—a day many hear about, but may not completely understand. When is the winter solstice, anyway, and what exactly is it? Turns out there’s more to it than just a short day and long night. Read on to learn key things about the 2021 winter solstice before it arrives. Then, read up on winter solstice traditions from around the world and what this year’s winter solstice means for your zodiac sign.

When is the winter solstice?

In 2021, the winter solstice is happening on Tuesday, December 21 at 10:59 EST in the Northern Hemisphere. Yep, it only lasts a brief moment, not a whole day as many believe!

What is the winter solstice?

Snowy path in winter forest. Evening sun shines through trees.alex_ugalek/Getty Images

The winter solstice is the day we have our shortest day and our longest night. Typically, it falls on December 21 or December 22 (only a few days before Christmas) in the Northern Hemisphere and on June 20 or June 21 in the Southern Hemisphere.

The winter solstice is rooted in an astronomical event. During this time, the sun is at its lowest point in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere. This means the Northern Hemisphere is tilted farthest away from the sun, which is why it’s the shortest day of the year. After the winter solstice, the Northern Hemisphere starts to tilt towards the sun again, which is why the days get longer. Winter still marches on, though, as these winter pictures from across America prove.

The Northern and Southern Hemispheres experience their solstices at opposite times due to the way Earth tilts on its axis. If the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, the Southern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, and vice versa. That’s why the Southern Hemisphere has its winter solstice in June; it’s tilted farthest from the sun, whereas the Northern Hemisphere is tilted towards the sun and experiences its summer solstice.

Facts about the winter solstice

aerial view of Stonehenge in the Snow during winterChris Gorman/Getty Images

Now that you know the ins and outs of the winter solstice, here are some fun facts you may not know about it.

  • The word “solstice” is derived from two Latin words: “sol,” which means “sun,” and “stit,” which means “standing.” Ancient people called it “solstitium,” which was eventually shortened to “solstice.”
  •  A solstice is different from an equinox. Solstices define the longest and shortest days of the year, whereas equinoxes (which we see in the spring and fall) define days that have the same amount of daytime and nighttime.
  • Some believe that Stonehenge, the famous English prehistoric monument, was built to celebrate the solstices.
  • According to NASA, each planet in Earth’s solar system has its own solstices and equinoxes. The length of each season and when each solstice and equinox occurs depend on the planet’s tilt. For instance, Uranus is tilted by 82 degrees, so it deals with seasons that last two decades.
  • The winter solstice has a couple different names, depending on where you’re from. Some alternative names for the shortest day of the year include Yule, Midwinter, The Longest Night, and Solstice Night.

Next, bookmark these winter quotes to share in celebration of the solstice.

Sources:

  • Almanac: “Winter Solstice 2021: The First Day of Winter”
  • Farmers’ Almanac: “Winter Solstice 2021: When Is It, And What Is It?”
  • Space.com: “When is the Winter Solstice and what happens?”
  • Merriam-Webster: “Solstice”
  • Britannica: “Understand the difference between solstices and equinoxes”
  • NASA: “Interplanetary Seasons”

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Kelly Kuehn
Kelly Kuehn is an assistant editor for Reader’s Digest covering entertainment, trivia, and history. When she’s not writing you can find her watching the latest and greatest movies, listening to a true crime podcast (or two), blasting ‘90s music, and hiking with her dog, Ryker, throughout New England.