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article imageHappy First Day of Winter — It's the shortest day of the year

By Karen Graham     Dec 21, 2016 in Environment
Today, December 21 is the first day of winter and the beginning of the winter solstice. It is also a day filled with astronomical, scientific and cultural facts that when combined, make for an interesting story.
Let's get the facts out of the way first, OK? The winter solstice began December 21 at 10:44 UTC (4:44 a.m. CST). Basically, the solstice occurs at the same time on Earth, regardless of where you happen to live. This is when the sun on our sky’s dome reaches its farthest southward point for the year. At this solstice, the Northern Hemisphere has its shortest day and longest night of the year.
Earth has seasons because our world is tilted on its axis with respect to our orbit around the sun.
Earth has seasons because our world is tilted on its axis with respect to our orbit around the sun.
Today, the solstice is an astronomical event we are able to view from space, but to ancient people, the changing of the seasons and the length of the days and nights were used to calculate everything from planting crops to hunting and the building of monuments. The track of the sun and the resulting solstices were carefully followed.
Shab-e Yalda is celebrated in Iran  Azerbaijan  Afghanistan  Kurdistan  Tajikistan  andTurkey (by Ku...
Shab-e Yalda is celebrated in Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Tajikistan, andTurkey (by Kurds and Azeris) as well as in Holland.
Persian Dutch Network
The rising sun aligns with structures at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt, during the winter solstice, as does it align in a similar fashion at monuments such as Stonehenge in England or Machu Picchu in Peru. But for all the hoopla over the winter solstice, one thing is universal - Nothing is more important to all the Earth's creatures than the length of the day. Think about that for a minute.
The sun s track across the sky was monitored by many ancient people  including the Egyptians. The Te...
The sun's track across the sky was monitored by many ancient people, including the Egyptians. The Temple at Karnak was one the place of worship of the eighteenth dynasty Theban Triad with the god Amun as its head.
Sunlight and warmth are as necessary as the air we breathe and the water that quenches our thirst. And sunlight, the length of the day push away depression and the blues for many of us, too. For people living in the far Northern Hemisphere, winter is one long, dark and cold night, often with the sun barely peeping over the horizon.
Twitter @firstdayofwinter
The winter solstice is also tied in with the Christmas season, and some historians believe this wasn't an accident. One theory holds that the Christian Church changed Christmas day to coincide with the Roman holiday, which had roots in the pagan cult, Sol Invictus (“the unconquered sun”), to get people to join.
Twitter @firstdayofwinter
Ancient Scandinavians once celebrated Juul, or Yule, a feast lasting many days marking the sun god's return. Some of the ancient cultural celebrations still go on today. In Iran, the Yalda festival marks the day when Mithra, an angel of light, was thought to have been born.
Twitter @firstdayofwinter
There are many other cultural celebrations tied to the winter solstice, but notice, all of them involve light, from a celebration of the light of the world to the giver of light, to China's Dōngzhì festival that marks when winter's darkness gives way to the light. So however you decide to celebrate the winter solstice, do it with joy in your heart, knowing the enduring light will return.
More about Winter solstice, shortest day of the year, first day of winter, Fun facts, fun tweets
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