A crash course to understanding the Winter Solstice

Dec 21, 2021, 4:26 PM | Updated: Dec 22, 2021, 5:49 am
Planes fly over the San Francisco skyline at dawn in this view from Sausalito, Calif., Tuesday, Dec...
Planes fly over the San Francisco skyline at dawn in this view from Sausalito, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010. Tuesday is the first day of winter and the winter solstice. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

The winter solstice happens every Dec. 21, leaving us with the longest night we experience in a year.

Why the U.S. sees the longest night

It happens because the northern hemisphere of the earth is tilted as far away from the sun as possible. This gives us the longest night, and therefore, the shortest hours of daylight. And it also marks the first official day of winter. 

We view this date more scientifically these days, but historically this day has been a significant rite of passage in other cultures and is still an important rite of passage.

The word solstice literally translates to “the standing still of the sun.” 

The days grow shorter during winter generally, but that the daylight varies depending on where you live in the world. Utah will see the sunset around 5:03 p.m., while a place such as Alaska won’t see sunlight again until nearly the end of January. On the flip side, the South Pole won’t see the sunset until at least March. 

Where the winter solstice celebrations started

Ancient Romans celebrate this holiday to honor their god, Saturn. It gradually developed into the Christmas traditions we know today, including large feasts with families and loved ones.

Yule festivals also happen at this time of year. Yule is a 12-day holiday that started to honor the Germanic gods and goddesses; some of its traditions have been selectively morphed into the solstice and Christmas traditions. All through the 12 days, people host feasts and burn a traditional log, known as the Yule Log, to eliminate evil spirits and bring forth good luck. 

Mistletoe was said to bring good luck on this day, where a priest would climb to the highest branches of an oak tree and pluck this sacred plant. Mistletoe was widely considered to be the soul of the tree. 

Read more:

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

Race, Religion + Social Justice

Fallout from the deadly police beating of Black motorist Tyre Nichols now includes the firing of t...
Steve Almasy, Mark Morales, Holly Yan and Nick Valencia, CNN

Other EMT, police, fired or on leave after Tyre Nichols’ deadly beating

An investigation concluded that the two EMTs "failed to conduct an adequate patient assessment of Mr. Nichols."
13 hours ago
Protesters block traffic as they rally against the fatal police assault of Tyre Nichols, in Venice,...
Nouran Salahieh, Holly Yan and Nick Valencia, CNN

A 6th Memphis officer is taken off the force after the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols

Grisly video showing Memphis police beating a 29-year-old Black man has spawned nationwide protests.
2 days ago
Gov. Spencer Cox covered a broad range of issues Thursday night at the State of the State Address. ...
Chandler Holt

Governor Spencer Cox signs transgender bill, releases statement

Gov. Spencer Cox released a statement on the transgender bill, that would ban transgender-related surgeries and puberty blockers for minors, on Saturday.
4 days ago
Rabbi Avremi Zippel talks to the crowd during halftime of a Jazz-Portland Trail Blazers game at Viv...
Mark Jones

International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Area rabbi shares his thoughts

Rabbi Avremi Zippel joined Inside Sources Friday to discuss International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
5 days ago
The Utah House has advanced the bill that bans transgender-related surgeries on minors and pauses t...
Lindsay Aerts

Utah Senate passes transgender-related surgery ban for minors

The Utah House has advanced the bill that bans transgender-related surgeries on minors and pauses the treatment of hormone blockers.
6 days ago
Pope Francis criticized laws that criminalize homosexuality as "unjust," saying God loves all his c...
NICOLE WINFIELD Associated Press

The AP Interview: Pope Francis says homosexuality not a crime

Pope Francis' comments are the first by a pope about laws criminalizing homosexuality. But they are consistent with his approach to the LGBTQ community.
7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
A crash course to understanding the Winter Solstice