Night Owls, Assemble — Winter Solstice Is Here

Lizzy Rosenberg - Author

Dec. 21 2023, Updated 10:10 a.m. ET

Closeup of branches growing a few leaves with snow in the background
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The Gist:

  • Winter solstice hits the Northern Hemisphere on Dec. 21
  • The holiday marks the start of winter — and the longest night of the year.
  • Winter solstice has plenty of spiritual significance, too.
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Even though many of us in the Northern Hemisphere have been experiencing frigid wintry weather since October or November, today marks the first day of winter. Yes, you heard that correctly — Dec. 21 is what many cultures refer to as winter solstice. Not only does it mark the change of seasons, but it also comes with quite a bit of spiritual significance.

This also means tonight is the longest night of the year. But why is that the case?

While a handful of us have been preoccupied with Hanukkah festivities, and as others gear up to celebrate Christmas in only a few days, winter solstice is certainly something to commemorate, too.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about this momentous seasonal change.

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Snow falls at night near a bush
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Is tonight the longest night of the year?

Dec. 21, 2023, aka winter solstice, is the longest night of the year. And yes, there's a scientific reason for that.

As we know, the Earth is always on a tilt, in relation to the sun. And during the winter solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from it. According to The Washington Post, the sun ends up taking its lowest possible path across the sky, rising and setting on the southernmost point of the horizon. In other words, it isn't out for very long, the farther north you are.

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Northernmost regions get even less sunlight than others. Parts of Alaska, for example, see fewer than 4 hours sunlight in a single day. Meanwhile, in parts of the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn't even rise.

Aerial shot of neighborhood covered in snow, in evening
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Winter solstice is also the shortest day of the year.

With longer nights comes shorter days. Have you ever noticed days in the winter are so much shorter than any other time of year? For many of us, our workday ends, and it's already dark outside.

Don't worry, though — this will be the shortest day of the year, and from here on out, the days will start becoming longer and longer.

Before you know it, the sun will be out until after 8 p.m. in the summertime. Try not to let the dark winter days get to you.

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Streetlight illuminates quiet street with houses in snow
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What is the spiritual meaning of winter solstice?

As previously mentioned, winter solstice comes with spiritual significance. Scandinavia celebrates the seasonal change with a Saint Lucia Day party, which involves women dressing in white robes, red sashes, and candle crowns to "light the way" through winter's darkness.

Pagans honor the solstice as time spent outdoors. Traditionally, they celebrated with alcohol and bonfires.

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Many in China celebrate Dong Zhi, honoring longer days to come with days off for farmers and fisherman; and oftentimes, the English flock to Stonehenge for a sunrise ceremony.

For a spiritual celebration at home, enjoy the natural moonlight and unplug for a while. Also meditate and situate yourself for clean, peaceful beginnings.

Lens flare shot of snowy street
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Here are some winter solstice quotes and blessings for your Instagram captions, friends, and family:

Routinely Nomadic offers winter solstice quotes for any spiritual or seasonal Instagram caption.

  • “Cold in the earth and fifteen wild Decembers, From those brown hills, have melted into spring.” ― Emily Bronte
  • “The crisp path through the field in this December snow, in the deep dark, where we trod the buried grass like ghosts on dry toast.” ― Dylan Thomas
  • “Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December. And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.” ― Edgar Allan Poe

And if you're looking for winter solstice blessings, the ones below can speak to anyone, regardless of their beliefs:

  • “May the dawn of the Winter Solstice chase the dark away.”
  • “May the Winter Solstice bring to you the promise of endless brand new days.”
  • “May the light of the Winter Solstice always shine on you.”

This article, originally published on Dec. 21, 2022, has been updated to reflect the 2023 winter solstice.

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