June may herald winter in the southern hemisphere, but it's the arrival of the winter solstice that truly signals the changing seasons. Yet, despite being an annual event, many of us only loosely understand what the phenomenon means. Yes, it's the shortest day in the year, but why? And how to celebrate one of the longest nights? We're answering all these questions and more on the 2022 winter solstice, below.
What is the winter solstice?
Put simply, a solstice speaks to the position of the earth in relation to the sun – so the tilt of the earth as it orbits 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. It also means that those located in the northern hemisphere will be experiencing a summer solstice – the longest day and shortest night. In Australia, the summer solstice occurs between December 20-22. In 2022, it will take place in the days leading up to Christmas on December 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. And so, the coolest temperatures usually take place in July over June.
How to make the most of the 2022 winter solstice.
As is the case with all lunar and solar events, the winter solstice provides an opportunity to realign, recentre and let go. Our brand and campaigns coordinator Lucienne Bambridge suggests participating in a yoga class to celebrate. You can also light a candle as a symbolic gesture to signal a season change and attract light back into your life.
In Tasmania as part of Dark Mofo festival, punters take a more chaotic approach and participate in an icy nude swim at Long Beach in Sandy Bay. Meanwhile in Japan, they celebrate the winter solstice or 'Toji' with water too, although the tradition of running a yuzu bath sounds far more inviting. There's something energising about citrus in winter.
How does this change sunrise and sunset times?
Many people think that after the winter solstice, sunrises immediately start becoming earlier. Unfortunately, there are still a few more days of dark mornings to come; with sunrise occurring at its peak at around 7:02am on July 2. According to Geoscience Australia, this occurs because of two reasons; the Earth orbits the Sun on an ellipse (not a circle), and secondly, we're slightly off-centre on the axis.
From July 2 onwards, sunrises slowly start becoming earlier again.
What's the difference between the solstice and equinox?
If you have heard people reference both a solstice and equinox and are unsure on what the difference between the two is; the clue is all in the name. Unlike a solstice where the Earth is faced in polar opposite directions to the moon or sun; an equinox represents a solar event when day and night are roughly equal. These normally occur two times a year during autumn and spring. You can expect the next one to occur on September 23, 2021 in Australia.
Now that we've had the shortest day of the year, when is the longest?
Just as there's a winter solstice, there is also a summer solstice – which is happening right now in the Northern Hemisphere (while we freeze). For us Australians, our summer solstice will arrive on December 22, just before Christmas.