Winter Solstice


Our World

Around the middle of the Earth, there is an invisible line called the Equator.

Countries above the Equator are in the northern hemisphere and countries below the Equator are in the southern hemisphere.


Earth and Sun

The Earth orbits (moves around) the Sun, which takes one year.

The Earth has an axis like a long pole that it is spinning around.  The axis is not straight; it is tilted over.  This means that the Earth leans at an angle and the sun’s rays don’t reach all parts of the planet equally.

The northern hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun in the summer, meaning more rays reach this part of the Earth and we get more light and heat.  The northern hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun in the winter and so countries here receive less light and heat.



What Is the Winter Solstice?

The winter solstice marks the change when the days begin to grow longer.  The summer solstice marks the change when the days begin to grow shorter.

The word “solstice” is a Latin word which means “sun stand still”.  During the solstice, the Sun appears to stay still in the sky for a few days before and after.

The winter solstice begins around December 21st.  This is also known as the first day of winter and is the shortest day and longest night of the year.  On this day there is the least amount of sunshine.


Solstice Celebrations

For thousands of years there have been solstice celebrations around the world.  The earliest of these began when people noticed the days were becoming shorter and were worried that the Sun would not return unless they kept watch and worshipped it.  People celebrated the winter solstice as they thought it was a time that the Sun was reborn after a time of darkness.

In Scandinavia, people burned yule logs because they thought the log made the sun brighter.

The Celts thought that the Sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter.  They lit a yule log during this time to keep them safe from the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.

The Druids (Celtic priests) cut mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and gave it as a special blessing.  Oaks were seen as very special and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months.


To find out more visit:


BBC Radio 4 – Radio 4 in Four – Everything you need to know about the winter solstice