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Things You May Not Know About the Winter Solstice

The official first day of Winter, marked by the Winter Solstice, is still a few weeks off, although parts of the country are already feeling the arctic chill and seeing snow. But what exactly is the Winter Solstice?


Perhaps you know that it is the longest night and shortest day of the year. Or maybe you’ve heard that some ancient cultures marked it as the start of the new year since each day grows longer from that point on. Perhaps you are aware that Stonehenge is aligned to the sunset on the Winter Solstice. Here are a few things you might not know…


The date actually varies slightly year to year and can fall anywhere between December 20th and December 23rd, although the 21st or 22nd are the most common. This year the solstice falls on the 21st of December. But why does it vary? Because the time it takes for the sun to return to the same spot relative to Earth is different from our calendar year. After all, the sun keeps its own time and isn’t required to follow the human calendar.


The solstice itself happens at a very specific and brief moment. It is the precise moment when the North Pole is at its farthest point away from the sun (on the Earth’s axis) and that moment when the sun shines directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. Both of those things will occur this year at 5:23 p.m. (For reference, that exact moment in 2017 occurred at 11:28 a.m.) Eastern Standard Time on December 21st here in the U.S. But wherever you live, in whatever time zone the solstice will occur at that same moment. This year the solstice also coincides with December’s full moon, known as the Cold Moon.


The word ‘solstice’ translates to “sun stands still” from the Latin term solstitium, the first part of which, sol, means ‘sun’ and the second part of which is the past tense of sistere meaning ‘to make stand’. To those of us here on Earth the sun appears to pause in the sky in its position relative to the horizon on the days surrounding the solstice.


There were pagan holidays that celebrated the solstice one of which was known as the Feast of Sol Invictus which celebrated the gradually lengthening days that follow the solstice moment. During the Roman Empire Saturnalia was a feast occurring around the solstice during which societal roles were flipped with masters serving their slaves and servants being allowed to insult their masters. Each household elected a King of Misrule to oversee the festivities. Over time these holidays merged with the Christian twelve-day Feast of the Nativity, also known as the Epiphany or Yule, to give us what we now call the Christmas season, or 12 Days of Christmas.


Whether you celebrate Winter or not, once the moment of the solstice passes, the days will start to grow longer minute by minute bringing us back to those long, lazy summer days we long for at this time of year. In the meantime, you can avoid the chill, mark the solstice on the beach and discover the joys of living at Hilton Head Lakes.


Hilton Head Lakes is a debt free community in South Carolina, and one of the best places to retire. It’s the perfect balance between gated community and world-class resort. With the addition of Realstar Builders, we’re creating homes that are built to last. Schedule a Discovery Visit today and experience Hilton Head Lakes for yourself.




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