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Winter Solstice – What it all means!

WSolstice1By Zak Klemm {Educational Program Specialist}

The Winter Solstice is a big deal, but there is no reason to get short about its true meaning. Every year we talk about the winter solstice as the shortest day of the year but why is it? Let’s take a look into why it is and its significance in other cultures.

WSolstice2During the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere we experience the shortest daylight length of the year. For example in Washington, DC the day’s length is 9 hours and 26 minutes, but in cities further North such as Reykjavik, Iceland only has a day length of 4 hours and 7 minutes! The winter solstice is caused by the Earth’s rotation around the sun since we are orbiting the sun at a staggering speed of 67,062 miles per hour which completes one cycle around the sun in 365 days, which equals one year. At this point in our orbit the northern hemisphere is exposed to less solar energy, however the overall energy reaching the Earth is up 6.9%. The reason we get colder is due to the Earth’s axial tilt which disperses the energy over a greater area, heating the atmosphere less. It is important to remember the earth’s tilt doesn’t change as we orbit about the sun always at 23.5 degrees.

WSolstice3The winter solstice obviously is an occurrence that only happens annually many cultures have noticed it and celebrated its occurrence some examples follow. In ancient Rome the festival of Saturnalia was celebrated in conjunction with the Solstice it was a festival to honor Saturn (the father of the gods). In this festival there were handmade gifts exchanged each with a symbolic meaning. For example, imitation fruit was given as a symbol of fertility, dolls symbolic due to the custom of human sacrifice, and candles symbolic of the bonfires associated with most of their festivals. The ancient people of England built Stonehenge as a solar calendar. Over 3500 people turned out this year to watch the sunrise at Stonehenge. Many ancient Cultures celebrated this occurrence as it marked the increase in day length from this point out. So if you don’t like being cold and these short days, bright side is we are on the upswing!

May you all have a safe and happy holidays!

~From us here at the Schrader Environmental Center!

Happy Holidays Seec

Picture Credits:

  1. http://www.hdwallpaperstop.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/winter-sunset-wallpapers.jpg
  2. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/files/2013/12/Axial-tilt-and-seasons.png
  3. http://media1.shmoop.com/images/biology/biobook_biogeography_graphik_2.png



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