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What is the winter solstice and when is it?

Sorry, folks, the days aren’t getting longer for a while

Ella Doyle
Written by
Ella Doyle

So the festive season has finally arrived, meaning it’s dark at 5pm and we’re all getting Monzo warnings to chill on the spending. But though it doesn’t necessarily feel like it, it’s still technically autumn right now. It’s not actually winter until we reach the Actual Shortest Day of the Year, aka the winter solstice.

But that moment is coming up relatively soon, and you know what that means? The days are going to start getting brighter again. Final push, eh? Here’s everything we know.

What is the winter solstice?

It basically just means the shortest day of the year (and the longest night of the year, obvs). The winter solstice occurs when the Earth turns on its axis, to the point where its poles reach their maximum tilt away from the sun. It happens twice a year – creating the shortest day and the longest day. The actual winter solstice only lasts for a moment, but the name refers to the whole day.

When is the shortest day of the year in the UK?

The winter solstice usually falls on December 21 to 22. This year, it will fall on Friday December 22. The exact time of the solstice is 3:27am. For some context, you’ll get eight hours and 49 minutes less daylight on that day then what you get on the June solstice. 

How do we celebrate the shortest day of the year?

There are a whole load of ways people celebrate the winter solstice all over the world. Prehistoric monuments like Stonehenge are aligned with the sunset for the winter solstice, so people often visit them on the day. People also decorate their Christmas tree and see loved ones to celebrate.

When does winter officially start in the UK and how long does it last?

It might feel like the depths of winter right now, but winter’s official start date isn’t actually upon us yet. Just to make things confusing, there are two dates recognised as the start of winter, on two different calendars. 

The astronomical calendar, which is based on the natural rotation of the earth around the sun, holds that winter starts on the day of the winter solstice, December 22, and ends on March 20 2024. 

The meteorological calendar, however, marks the first day of winter as Thursday December 1 2023 (and the last on March 1 2024)  meaning we’re nearly there. 

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