“Solstices occur twice a year, when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is oriented directly towards or away from the Sun, causing the Sun to appear to reach its northernmost and southernmost extremes.

The name is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, its apparent movement north or south comes to a standstill.

The term solstice can also be used in a wider sense, as the date (day) that such a passage happens. The solstices, together with the equinoxes, are connected with the seasons. In some languages they are considered to start or separate the seasons; in others they are considered to be centre points (in English, in the Northern hemisphere, for example, the period around the June solstice is known as midsummer, and Midsummer’s Day is 24 June, about three days after the solstice itself).

Similarly December 2 is the start of the Christmas celebration, which was a Pagan festival in pre-Christian times, and is the day the sun begins to return back to the northern hemisphere.

The winter solstice occurs at the instant when the Sun’s position in the sky is at its greatest angular distance on the other side of the equatorial plane from the observer. Depending on the shift of the calendar, the event of the winter solstice occurs some time between December 20 & December 23 each year in the northern hemisphere, and between June 20 & June 23 in the southern hemisphere, during either the shortest day or the longest night of the year, which is not to be confused with the darkest day or night or the day with the earliest sunset or latest sunrise.

Though the Winter Solstice lasts an instant, the term is also used to refer to the full 24-hour period.

Worldwide, interpretation of the even has varied from culture to culture but most cultures have held a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time.

The seasonal significance of the Winter Solstice is varied, since it is sometimes said to astronomically mark either the beginning or middle of a hemisphere’s Winter. Winter is a subjective term, so there is no scientifically established beginning or middle of winter but the Winter Solstice itself is clearly defined within a second.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solstice

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice

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