The shortest day of the year will soon be upon us. While those in the northern hemisphere get to soak up the long and languid rays of the summer solstice, those of us down south have an opportunity to re-centre and reset with the winter solstice. Yet, despite being an annual event, many of us only loosely understand what the phenomenon means. Where did the tradition come from and how to celebrate one of the longest nights? Find all your questions about the 2023 winter solstice answered below.
What is the winter solstice?
Put simply, a solstice speaks to the position of the earth in relation to the sun which is how we measure our seasons. When the earth is titled furthest from the sun, that's when the winter solstice occurs, which explains why we get so little daylight. In 2023, the winter solstice will happen on Thursday, June 22.
Depending on how far south you live will determine how much sun you receive. In Sydney we'll experience nine hours and 53 minutes of daylight while in Hobart daylight will last for just nine hours in total. And although we'll experience the shortest day of the year, this doesn't mean there are any less hours or minutes in the day, it simply refers to daylight.
Does this make it the coldest day in the year?
The short answer is no. You'd think having less sunlight would somehow impact the weather, but that's not quite how it works. Rather, just like heating food on the stove, it takes a while for the earth to heat up and cool down due to a phenomenon called seasonal lag. It's for this reason that the coolest temperatures usually take place later in the season during July.
How to make the most of the 2023 winter solstice...
As is the case with all lunar and solar events, the winter solstice provides an opportunity to take stock, recentre ourselves and set our intentions going forward. While winter solstice is celebrated differently across the world, anything that promotes mindfulness is encouraged. In the past, certain RUSSH editors have participated in a yoga class to celebrate, while others are fond of lighting a candle as a symbolic gesture – citrus-based scents can be energising. Others might simply celebrate the solstice with a glass of wine to celebrate the shortest working day.
It's no coincidence that Tasmania's beloved Dark Mofo festival is scheduled around the winter solstice, where attendees can famously take part in a communal icy ocean swim. Meanwhile in Japan, the winter solstice or 'Toji' is celebrated with water too, although the tradition of running a yuzu bath sounds far more inviting.
What's the difference between the solstice and equinox?
I was a bit confused by this at first, too. The difference between a solstice and equinox is all in the name. If you're adept in Latin, you'll have figured this out already. Unlike a solstice which deals in extremes, speaking to either the longer or shortest day and longest or shortest night, an equinox represents a solar event in which the day and night are roughly equal. Think of it like the opposite of a solstice, although equinoxes similarly occur twice a year but during autumn and spring instead. The next equinox is set to take place on September 23, 2023.
Now that we've had the shortest day of the year, when is the longest?
Just as there exists a winter solstice, there is also its equal and opposite counterpart: the summer solstice. As you may have gathered, while we turn up the heating and add on a few extra layers, the Northern Hemisphere is celebrating the summer solstice. For Australians, our summer solstice will arrive on Friday, December 22, just before Christmas.