Watch: What is the winter solstice?
Feeling as if it practically gets dark at about 2pm right now? Well all that should start to improve from today as we hit the winter solstice.
The reason we have to switch on the lights practically the minute we've had our lunch right now is because we're about to hit the shortest day of the year, which means daylight hours have been becoming more and more scarce.
The arrival of winter in the UK, on December 1 each year, has brought with it seemingly endless nights in the build up to the Christmas season, but from today, which marks the longest night of the year, things should start to improve, in the light sense anyway.
That's because today is the winter solstice 2021 and though this means we're expected to see a really rather paltry 7 hours, 49 minutes and 42 seconds of daylight, the evenings should start to get lighter from now onwards.
Here's what you need to know about the annual event.
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What is the winter solstice?
The word solstice derives from sol, the Latin word for sun, and sistere, which means “to come to a stop or make stand”.
The winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night when when the Earth’s axis rotates to the point that the north pole has its maximum tilt from the sun.
The event also marks the start of astronomical winter season, which won't come to an end until the spring equinox, or vernal equinox, on Sunday 20 March 2021.
Some also know the date as midwinter, because the days get longer after it has passed and the countdown to spring begins. Woo hoo!
When is the winter solstice?
This year, it occurs on Tuesday 21 December, with the specific time of the solstice being 3.58pm in the UK.
The winter solstice is almost nine hours shorter than the longest day of the year in June, which is just under 16 hours and 38 minutes long.
On the shortest day, today, with the sun rising at 8.03am and setting at 3.53pm, there are only around 7 hours and 48 minutes of daylight hours.
An excuse to keep your twinkly Christmas lights on all day if ever we needed one.
The current gloom isn't set to last, however, a few days after the the winter solstice, days will start getting longer by an average of two minutes and seven seconds every day until we have a full extra hour of daylight by January 18, 2022.
From then on and every four weeks after, we'll continue to get an hour or so of sunshine brightening up our days.
What does the winter solstice have to do with seasons?
Experts say the reason the amount of daylight varies throughout the year has to do with the tilt of planet Earth, as the poles either point towards or away from the Sun.
This tilt also creates the earth’s seasons. During winter, the North Pole points away from the sun, meaning that there is less light shining on earth’s Northern Hemisphere. This leads to fewer hours of daylight and colder temperatures."
Spring and autumn start on the dates of the two equinoxes in March and September. These are the two points in the year when the equator is the closest part of Earth to the sun, which, in theory, means that the whole world gets around 12 hours of daylight.
Winter starts on 1 December every year, and the June Solstice marks the astronomical beginning of summer and is the day with the most daylight in the year.
How do people celebrate the winter solstice?
The winter and summer solstices have been associated with rituals and celebrations for thousands of years, with ancient cultures celebrating the biannual rituals across the world.
In the UK Stonehenge has become the focal site for celebrations, with thousands of pagans gathering every year (pre-COVID of course) at the iconic stones, which were originally carefully placed to frame the sunset on the winter solstice.
Some also see the date as an opportunity to celebrate new beginnings.
"Winter Solstice has special spiritual significance since we are invited to leave behind energies that no longer serve us," explains Bex Milford, astrologer, cosmic coach and founder of the Moon Child Sorority.
"In Pagan tradition, Winter Solstice is known as Yule and is an important time of celebration and festivity. This is a symbolic honouring of ‘rebirth’ and restoration since now the Sun is ‘returning’ and the days get longer.
"Gatherings at places of spiritual significance such as Stone Henge and Glastonbury Tor are often common, as people watch the sunrise and sunset."
What can we do to mark the winter solstice?
According to Milford the winter solstice is an opportunity to have a ‘rebirth’ of the self.
"It can be an opportunity to notice what limiting beliefs or unsupported habits we wish to leave behind, and what aspects of ourselves we want to elevate and embrace on our journey ahead," she explains.
"It is also a period of rest and evaluation in Astrology, where we can set intentions for the upcoming three months and release ourselves of stagnant energy in readiness for upcoming change."
In Astrology, each of the compass points and seasons is connected to a different element.
"Spring is connected to East and sunrise, welcoming in the Air element and the winds of change," Milford continues.
"Summer is South, a period of rest, patience and Fire energy. Autumn is West and Water, a time of harvest and bounty, whereas Winter is North and is connected to Earth.
"As the Earth slows down and retreats, we too can take time to consider our priorities and how we will best utilise this period of enforced rest. Just as there is a gentle pause in the world, so we are invited to look around us and notice what supports our growth, and where we wish to flourish in the future. We can use it as a chance to accumulate the wisdom and knowledge needed for this transformation," she adds.
In the Northern Hemisphere, as winter solstice occurs just before the New Year, Milford suggests working with the solstice by setting your winter intentions, which you will work on until the Spring Equinox on 20th March.
Here are some other suggestions for ways to celebrate the winter solstice.
Create winter solstice journal
"Journaling is an incredibly powerful tool to utilise as we change seasons, since it invites us to delve into aspects of our lives that we may not have considered, thus opening us up to change," explains Milford.
"Take some time over the day of the solstice to answer these questions from the heart:
⁃ What am I proud of achieving in 2021?
⁃ How has my perception of what ‘success’ means changed?
⁃ What does the word ‘ambition’ mean to me?
⁃ Where in my life would I like to bloom and flourish in 2022?
⁃ How can I use this period of rest & retreat to educate myself, expand, and give myself the best chance of success?
⁃ What ideas and thoughts about myself limit me? How have I blocked my own growth in 2021?
⁃ What limiting beliefs and stories would I like to release and leave behind in 2021?"
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Create a Solstice Release List (SRL)
Holding a physical ceremony - whether alone or with friends (restrictions permitting) - is a wonderful way of ushering in fresh energies and leaving behind the lingering shadow vibrations that keep us restricted.
Milford suggests gathering items that symbolise each of the four elements: candles for Fire, crystals, plants and rocks for Earth, feathers or incense for Air and a bowl of water for Water.
"Place them at the compass points mentioned above (Air: East, Fire: South, Air: West, North: Earth.)," she suggests.
"Sit in the middle of this circle and face North. On a piece of paper, write down a list of limiting beliefs, old stories, unsupportive habits or energetic drains that you wish to cleanse yourself of as the season shifts, and that will leave behind in the ‘darkness’ before the Sun returns.
"Now, rip up the paper into little pieces, as you do so repeating ‘I leave this energy in 2021’.
"Create a hole in the ground and bury the pieces of paper, or if you prefer, find a safe space to burn them."
Milford now suggests you write the list of ‘intentions’ (these might be supportive energies and high vibrations you want to embrace going forward into a new year) and keep them somewhere you can see, like a journal, diary or next to your bed.
"You may also want to physically ‘cleanse’ your space with sage or palo santo (traditionally used to ward off bad spirits), and have a declutter by ridding your space of items you’ve been meaning to throw out or give away."
Set your future intentions
The winter solstice is an ideal time to set intentions for the future, says holistic life coach Rochelle Knowles, founder of Mindful Eyes coaching.
It's also a period to appreciate nature and give back to what the cycle of seasons it has given us.
Knowles has a couple of suggestions of rituals, which can help you celebrate, reset and renew.
"Start with gratitude, thanking nature and all that it has given you, the sunny days, the windy days, the rainy days, the rebirth of life," she says.
"Go for a walk in nature, take notice of all that nature gives and give gratitude.
"Then, plant a seed in your garden or an indoor pot to have new energy in your environment, and set an intention for the new year.
"Before you sow the seeds, hold them in your hand and think about what you would like for 2022. Or if you don’t fancy planting a seed and having the trouble of then taking care of a plant, you can do a similar ritual with a candle as the flame symbolises the sun."
The main objective, according to Knowles, is to celebrate the birth of the sun.