Description English: Stonehenge
Date: 30 July 2007
Author: garethwiscombe
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December 21st marks the beginning of winter and the Winter Solstice. It’s considered the shortest day of the year and, if you believe in astrology, also the worst. Astrologers talking to USA Today say the sun is expected to pass in front of the constellation Capricorn hours after Saturn does, which is a series of events that hasn’t happened in 350 years. Some believe this makes for a frustrating and difficult time.

What is the meaning of the winter solstice? The winter solstice marks the start of winter — the day with the smallest amount of daylight, sometimes referred to as the “darkest day of the year” or the “shortest day of the year.” The National Weather Service explains the winter solstice also marks when the earth’s axis is tilted furthest away from the sun. But just because there isn’t a lot of sunlight doesn’t mean it is always cold on the winter solstice. In fact, the NWS explains, the coldest and warmest temperatures typically occur weeks after the winter and summer solstices, respectively.

What happens during the winter solstice? The National Weather Service notes that seasons are not caused by how close the Earth is to the sun, but rather how the Earth is tilted. While the Earth is always tilted at 23.5 degrees, during the winter, that tilt is facing away from the sun. In fact, the winter solstice marks when the earth is tilted furthest away from the sun. As the Earth starts tilting further from the sun following the autumnal — or fall — equinox, temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere start to drop, which is why the December solstice marks the beginning of winter, according to the NWS. Temperatures won’t start picking up until around the time the Earth starts tilting toward the sun after the vernal, or spring, equinox.

What does Stonehenge have to do with the winter solstice? Stonehenge is a popular destination each year for the winter solstice. The site is often visited by pagans celebrating the sun’s “rebirth” for the new year, according to BBC, an event they also refer to as “Yule.” But it’s just one of the few ways people like to gather and celebrate the winter solstice around the world. Other winter solstice rituals include getting scared by Krampus and soaking in baths full of fruit. The reason Stonehenge is so popular — a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, about an hour and a half outside of London — is because it creates a sight line toward the winter solstice sunset. National Geographic notes that Stonehenge aligns with the winter solstice’s sunset and the summer solstice’s sunrise. Thousands of people arrived to watch the sunrise during last year’s winter solstice, BBC reported.

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