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The Winter Solstice
The Winter Solstice is the first day of the Season of Winter*. On or about December 22 the Sun is farthest south (above the Tropic of Capricorn) and the length of time between sunrise and sunset in the northern hemisphere is the shortest of the year.
Although December 22 is generally considered to be the date of the December Solstice, the precise time can vary and fall on December 20, 21, 22, or 23.
As the Earth circles around the Sun, it leans about 23° on its axis like a spinning top frozen in an off-kilter position. At this time, even though the Earth is rotating, the entire Arctic area is hidden from the Sun - almost.
Some people think that this day is one of 24 hours of darkness on the Arctic Circle, but not quite.
Sunrise and sunset are calculated from the leading and trailing edges of the Sun (and not the center). If the Sun was like a light bulb that turned "on" or "off" when the middle of it hit the horizon, the days of full sunlight and full darkness would be equal. (See the Sunset Guide)
So, at this date on the Arctic Circle, there is some sunlight. When the Sun is at its highest, it is still mostly hidden below the horizon, but it is "up" enough to provide about two hours of light.
Ancient people in the northern hemisphere considered this day a very important one. If the Sun kept sinking lower and lower - and the amount of sunlight each day got less and less - soon there would be no light and life would end. On this date, the Sun stopped (solstice means "standing still sun") and thereafter, it started to climb in the sky. This was a time of great celebration - the increasing hours of sunlight meant that life would continue.
* This day is also the first day of the Season of Summer in the southern hemisphere.
DICTIONARY: Just "double-click" any unlinked word on this page for the definition from Merriam-Webster's Student Electronic Dictionary at Word Central.
ARCTIC LIBRARY & GLOSSARY: Check this section for an index of the rest of the things you really need to know about the Arctic.
ARCTIC MAPS & WEATHER REPORTS: Maps of the Northwest Passage, explorers' routes, iceberg sources, Nunavut, the Arctic by treeline, temperature...
ARCTIC LINKS: Even more information! Links to sites related to the Arctic and "Iceberg: the Story of the Throps and the Squallhoots".
GUIDE TO ARCTIC SUNRISE & SUNSET: How much sunlight or darkness is there in the Arctic on each day of the year?