For thousands of years, people all over the world have celebrated the winter solstice. This astronomical phenomenon occurs in the Northern Hemisphere on Dec. 21 or 22 and in the Southern Hemisphere on June 20 or 21. It marks the day that the sun reaches its southern-most position as seen from Earth, which results in the shortest day and longest night of the year.
The term “solstice” is derived from the Latin word solstitium, which translates to “the Sun stands still.” At this time the sun appears to stand still at the Tropic of Capricorn, shining directly overhead at noon, and then reverses its direction. During the December solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is leaning mostly away from the sun. In fact, the National Weather Service explains that seasons are not caused by how close the Earth is to the sun, but rather how the Earth is tilted.
Many ancient cultures, from Europe to the Americas, developed customs and rituals to revel in the journey toward summer’s long, warm days. Click here to see some of the most fun winter solstice celebrations around the world.