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Saturday Marks the First Day of Winter and Shortest Day of the Year

By Nathan Ham

While winter temperatures have been hanging around for a little while already, the first day of winter does not arrive until Saturday. The Winter Solstice will take place at 11:19 p.m. EST Saturday night. This is also the shortest amount of daylight during the year with just 9 hours, 41 minutes, 39 seconds of daylight. The sun will rise at 7:33 a.m. and will set at 5:15 p.m. All days after this will begin to get longer by a few seconds until the first day of Summer in 2020 when the cycle of slowly losing daylight starts over. 

From a scientific perspective, the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere happens when the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky. At the exact same time on Saturday, the Southern Hemisphere of the planet will be experiencing its Summer Solstice. 

Most times, the Winter Solstice will happen on December 21 or December 22, but can rarely happen on December 20 or December 23. The last time that December 23 marked the solstice was in 1903 and it will not happen again until 2303.

Interestingly enough, according to the Farmers’ Almanac, not all seasons are the same length. The time it takes for the Sun to move from the vernal equinox to the Summer Solstice (spring to summer) is 92.8 days, from the Summer Solstice to the autumnal equinox (summer to fall), 93.6 days; from the autumnal equinox to the Winter Solstice (fall to winter), 89.8 days; and from the Winter Solstice to the vernal equinox (winter to spring), 89.0 days.

There are numerous holidays across the world that have celebrated or still celebrate the Winter Solstice. In Ancient Rome, a festival called Sturnalia began on December 17 and lasted for one week. In Scandinavian countries, the Feast of Juul was celebrated each year at the time of the Winter Solstice. People would light fires to symbolize the returning of the sun as days would get longer again. Iranians celebrate Yalda every year on December 21 as a celebration of the longest night of the year. Family members gather together and stay awake all night long to commemorate the event. Other holidays include Alban Arthan (Welsh holiday), Dongzhi (East Asia holiday), Korochun (Slavic holiday), Shalako (Zuni holiday) and Ziemassvetki (Latvian holiday).