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The Winter Solstice

Image Source Brian Brettschneider Twitter

December 21 is the winter solstice: the shortest day and longest night of the year here in Earth's northern hemisphere.

The winter solstice occurs when in the Northern Hemisphere, which includes the US, is tipped at its furthest point away from the sun.

The word "solstice" comes from the Latin word "solstitium", which translates to "sun standing still". That's because on this day the sun appears to stop at the Tropic of Capricorn.

The Southern Hemisphere, meanwhile, is celebrating the summer solstice, or the longest day of the year, on December 21. The word "sunturn" is also used to describe this event. In fact, it's been gradually getting lighter in the evenings for more than a week now.

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This year, thousands of people will be able to watch it live from anywhere in the world on their laptops, tablets and phones. The Northern Hemisphere receives its least direct sunlight on the winter solstice, but in many places the coldest average temperatures of winter aren't until January. The Talmud calls the winter solstice "Tekufat Tevet".

In New York, which has Eastern Standard Time (EST), sunset will take place today at 4.31pm. The winter solstice has been honored as a time of divine births for a long time: in Persia, Mithras was said to have been born at this time and in ancient Egypt the date marked the birth of Horus. "After this point in time, periods of daylight will once again begin to grow longer", they continued.

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Legend has it that the early Druids celebrated the longest and shortest days of the year with a trip to Stonehenge. The dancing lasts for four days! And one of the most well-known winter solstice celebration is Yule, the pagan tradition of welcoming the sunrise with gratitude.

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