Winter Solstice:
A Season of Light

The Friends wish you light and hope during the darkest part of the year when we lift our spirits by celebrating the Season of Light.

Whatever festival may gladden your heart this month, the winter solstice arrived at 10:59 AM EST for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Technically, the December solstice occurs at the moment when the Sun appears at its most southern point with respect to the celestial equator, a projection of the Earth's equator onto the sky. More broadly, we speak of the winter solstice as the day on which this event occurs and with which we associate the Sun appearing above the horizon for the shortest amount of time. However, sunrise and sunset times change very slowly around the solstice; this year, in Virginia, we will have about 9 hours and 26 minutes of sunlight for a few days around the solstice. We also consider this day the first day of winter.

Seasons are reversed between the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. Our friends on the other side of the equator will experience long periods of daylight and warmer weather on the December solstice, which will mark the beginning of their summer season. In either case, the approximate 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth's rotation axis with respect to the plane of our orbit around the Sun causes these extremes.

According to the Gregorian calendar, the winter solstice occurs near December 21. In the Julian calendar used by the Roman Empire, the winter solstice occurred around December 25. Regardless of calendar system, many cultures schedule a festival during this time to celebrate life and emphasize themes of light conquering darkness. When the David M. Brown Planetarium is open, we showcase these holidays in the popular "Season of Light" show, which we trust will return in December 2022. Until then, please enjoy our series of brief articles covering a few festivities that bring joy during the darkest time of year: