In the Northern hemisphere, the winter solstice occurs today (December 21). The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day and hence the longest night of the year. In Stockholm this means we get a mere 6 hours 4 minutes of daylight. It could be worse though, up north in Umeå there will be just over 4 hours of daylight, and Kiruna (in the far north) had its last sunrise of the year on December 11.
The solstice actually refers to a very specific moment: the point at which the Sun is exactly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn, which this year will happen on Tuesday, December 21, 2021 at 04:59 PM CET. Hence, the term ‘solstice’, which is derived from the Latin word ‘solstitium’, sol (meaning ‘sun’) and sistere (meaning to ‘standstill’).
The solstice also marks the start of winter in the astronomical calendar, but really symbolises mid-winter, with the succeeding days getting progressive longer (yay!) until the summer solstice in June.
Historically, the winter solstice beared supernatural and religious significance and was celebrated with festivals and rituals. For instance, the Scandinavian festival of Jul (the origin of ‘Yule’), the 12-day festival centered around the solstice, birthed many Christmas traditions. In Nordic tradition, a tree was selected, brought into the house, and slowly fed into the fire over 12 days, along with feasts in tribute to the Norse gods. Today, the Yule log is most commonly known as a log-shaped chocolate cake enjoyed as a Christmas pudding.
Some traditions still remain, with Festivals around the Winter Solstice marking a time to gather, celebrate and feast by the firelight.
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