The Winter Solstice will officially happen at 5:23 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Friday evening, the day where areas in the Northern Hemisphere receive the least amount of sunlight all year long.
Friday will have 9 hours, 41 minutes and 39 seconds of sunshine, the shortest day of the year. After the Winter Solstice, days will get longer with sunsets happening at later times. On Friday, the sun will rise at 7:34 a.m. and will set at 5:15 p.m.
Scientifically speaking, the Winter Solstice happens when the North Pole is tilted the farthest away from the sun, which is why it gives places in the Northern Hemisphere the least amount of sunlight that they will see in a calendar year. Most times, the Winter Solstice will happen on December 21 or December 22, but can rarely happen on December 20 or December 23. The last time that December 23 marked the solstice was in 1903 and it will not happen again until 2303.
The Winter Solstice is one of the most celebrated astronomical events in the world. At Stonehenge, the monument is aligned so that it points to the Winter Solstice Sunset. Archaeologists believe that this was completely intentional as the solstice signaled the team of year to slaughter cattle and was the time when most wines and beers were fermented.
In Ancient Rome, a festival called Sturnalia began on December 17 and lasted for one week. In Scandinavian countries, the Feast of Juul was celebrated each year at the time of the Winter Solstice. People would light fires to symbolize the returning of the sun as days would get longer again.
Iranians celebrate Yalda every year on December 21 as a celebration of the longest night of the year. Family members gather together and stay awake all night long to commemorate the event.
Native Americans also had a special celebration for the Winter Solstice. In Guatemala, Mayan Indians take part in the tradition of Palo Volador, translated in English to “flying pole dance.” One man climbs on top of a 50-foot pole playing a flute and beating a drum. Two other men attach one end of a rope to the pole and the other end around one foot. The two men then jump off the pole, and if they land on their feet, the tradition goes that the Sun God will bless them with longer days. Incas celebrated a special festival honoring the Sun God as well.
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