Winter Solstice 2024: The Shortest Day of the Year

~8 min

The new season is coming! Here is how the winter solstice is related to seasons and how people celebrate it across the world.


Briefly about the winter solstice

What is it? The winter solstice in one of the Earth’s hemispheres occurs when this hemisphere is tilted the farthest away from the Sun and receives the least daylight.

When is it? In the Northern Hemisphere, the next winter solstice will take place on December 21, 2024. The next winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere will occur on June 20, 2024.

Why is it important? Astronomically speaking, the winter solstice marks the beginning of winter. On this day, we experience the shortest day and the longest night. People have attached great importance to the winter solstice and celebrated it with various festivals and rituals since ancient times. Famous ancient monuments (Newgrange, Stonehenge, and Cahokia Woodhenge) are aligned with the sunrise or sunset on the winter solstice.

What is the winter solstice?

The winter solstice is a moment when one of the Earth’s hemispheres reaches its maximum tilt away from the Sun. As a result, this hemisphere gets the least amount of daylight and experiences the shortest day in a year. On the winter solstice, the Sun’s path in the sky is farthest south in the Northern Hemisphere and farthest north in the Southern Hemisphere.

December Solstice Schema
Position of the Earth in relation to the Sun during the December solstice (winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere).

Solstices occur because our planet’s axis is tilted 23.5 degrees. If the Earth had no inclination, the Sun would shine directly on the equator all year long. This would leave us without solstices and seasons. Watch this video to get a visual explanation of how the Earth’s tilt works.

Luckily, our planet (as well as all other planets in the Solar System) is inclined, so we experience seasons. The winter solstice is one of the transition points between them — along with the summer solstice, spring and autumn equinoxes. As the name implies, the winter solstice marks the beginning of winter. And if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you might associate the winter solstice with December. You're not wrong, but it might bring a bit of confusion between you and those who live in the southern latitudes.

What is December solstice?

December solstice is a solstice that occurs each December. In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s generally known as the winter solstice which marks the shortest day of the year. Whereas in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the summer solstice which brings the most amount of daylight.

Solstices have been observed since ancient times. Our ancestors used the phrases "winter solstice" and "summer solstice" long before they knew the other hemisphere existed. They didn't think that their winter could be the summer season somewhere else.

People living in the Northern Hemisphere (most of the Earth’s population) often use the phrase “December solstice” as a synonym for “winter solstice,” leaving out the Southern Hemisphere.

Astronomers prefer to say “December solstice” and “June solstice” to avoid seasonal references. But “winter solstice” and “summer solstice” have already taken too much root in the cultures, sometimes leading to misunderstanding.

Solstice meaning

The word "solstice" comes from the Latin words "sol", meaning Sun, and "stit", meaning to stand still, so it literally means "the Sun stands still". Around the solstices, the apparent Sun’s path across the sky appears to "freeze".

For example, if you take a picture of the Sun at the same time a few days before and after a solstice, you'll see that it stays in roughly the same place. Meanwhile, around the equinoxes, its apparent path varies considerably from day to day.

You can see these changes for yourself on an analemma — a solar curve that resembles an elongated figure eight. It shows the position of the Sun in the sky at a single location and time of day throughout the year. Learn more about analemmas and how to easily make them in just a few taps from our dedicated article.

Example of analemma
Analemma as seen from New York. Made via the Sky Tonight app.

When is the winter solstice 2024?

Northern Hemisphere: Winter solstice takes place on December 21, 2024, at 09:20 GMT (04:20 a.m. EST).

Southern Hemisphere: Winter solstice takes place on June 20, 2024, at 20:51 GMT (4:51 p.m. EDT).

Don’t forget to convert this time to your local time zone. You can use a website like World Time Buddy or Dateful. Another option is to use the stargazing app Sky Tonight. Open the app, tap the magnifier icon, and type “Solstice” in the search bar. Choose the corresponding result, and in the window that opens, you’ll see the exact time in your local time zone.

Winter solstice dates

In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice usually occurs on December 21 or 22; it can also rarely happen on December 20 or 23. The next solstice on December 20 will occur in 2080; on December 23 — in 2303.

In the Southern Hemisphere, the winter solstice most of the time happens on June 20 or 21. Rarely it can also take place on June 22 — next time, the solstice on this date will occur in 2203.

Note that these dates refer to the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). In your local time zone, the dates can vary.

Northern Hemisphere

  • 2024: December 21, 09:20 GMT (4:20 a.m. EST)
  • 2025: December 21, 15:03 GMT (10:03 a.m. EST)
  • 2026: December 21, 20:50 GMT (3:50 p.m. EST)
  • 2027: December 22, 02:43 GMT (9:43 p.m. EST)
  • 2028: December 21, 08:20 GMT (03:20 a.m. EST)

Southern Hemisphere

  • 2024: June 20, 20:51 GMT (4:51 p.m. EDT)
  • 2025: June 21, 02:42 GMT (June 20, 10:42 p.m. EDT)
  • 2026: June 21, 08:25 GMT (4:25 a.m. EDT)
  • 2027: June 21, 14:11 GMT (10:11 a.m. EDT)
  • 2028: June 20, 20:02 GMT (4:02 p.m. EDT)

When is the first day of winter?

According to the meteorological approach, the winter starts on December 1 in the Northern Hemisphere and on June 1 in the Southern Hemisphere.

According to the astronomical approach, the winter begins on the day of the winter solstice, which usually happens on December 21 or 22 in the Northern Hemisphere and on June 20 or 21 in the Southern Hemisphere.

How long is winter?

The seasons on the Earth have different lengths. Here is their average duration:

  • March equinox to June solstice: 92.8 days
  • June solstice to September equinox: 93.6 days
  • September equinox to December solstice: 89.8 days
  • December solstice to March equinox: 89.0 days

The reason for the different lengths of the seasons is the Earth's elliptical orbit. Our planet moves around the Sun at different speeds — fastest around perihelion (closest point to the Sun) in January and slowest around aphelion (farthest from the Sun) in June. On average, winter lasts 89.0 days in the Northern Hemisphere and 93.6 days in the Southern Hemisphere.

How long is the shortest day of the year 2024 (Northern Hemisphere)

Let's see how the length of daylight changes over December in the Northern Hemisphere. The first number is the day length on December 1, 2024, and the second one is the day length on the solstice day (December 20 or 21, 2024, depending on the time zone).

  • New York: 9 h 28 m 54 s ⇒ 9 h 15 m 17 s
  • Ottawa: 8 h 59 m 23 s ​​⇒ 8 h 42 m 52 s
  • London: 8 h 09 m 48 s ⇒ 7 h 49 m 42 s
  • Mexico City: 11 h 02 m 51 s ⇒ 10 h 57 m 40 s
  • Madrid: 9 h 30 m 50 s ⇒ 9 h 17 m 08 s

If you want to check the day length for your location, open the Sky Tonight app, tap the calendar icon on the main screen, and go to the Sky tab. Under the graph, you’ll find the Day Length (highlighted in yellow) for your location.

By the way, you can notice that the shortest day of the year doesn’t feature the earliest sunset. The reasons are the tilt of the Earth’s axis and the Earth’s elliptical orbit.

Winter solstice traditions

Inca’s religious ceremony: Inti Raymi

  • Where: Inca Empire
  • When: June 24
  • Observed by: Incas

Inti Raymi was a traditional religious ceremony in honor of the god Inti, a celebration of the winter solstice and the Inca New Year. The celebration lasted for nine days and featured music, dances, colorful clothing, and the Aya Huma mask, as well as animal sacrifices.

Inti Raymi

Christian feast day: St. Lucia’s Day

  • Where: Scandinavia and Italy
  • When: December 13 (the solstice by the old calendar)
  • Observed by: Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans

St. Lucia’s Day (as the name implies) is a celebration to honor St. Lucia, a Christian martyr. Girls dress up in white gowns with red sashes and wear wreaths of candles on their heads in honor of St. Lucia.

St. Lucia’s Day

Asian festival: Dongzhi

  • Where: East Asia
  • When: December 20, 21, or 22
  • Observed by: Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Ryukyuans, Peranakans

Dongzhi is the time when families get together and celebrate the year they had. It includes making and eating tangyuan (glutinous rice balls), rice cakes, dumplings, and hot pots.


Biggest holiday in Antarctica: Midwinter Day

  • Where: Antarctica
  • When: June 20 or 21
  • Observed by: Personnel at research stations in Antarctica

Midwinter Day (or midwinter festival) was invented by a British Antarctic expedition as an imitation of Christmas. It includes large fancy meals (lobster and ribeye steak), alcohol, Christmas decorations, and gift exchanges.

Midwinter Day

Iranian festival: Yalda Night

  • Where: Iran and historically Iranian-influenced regions
  • When: December 20, 21, or 22
  • Observed by: Iranians, Afghans, Azerbaijani, Tajik, Dagestani

Yalda Night is the festival that families and friends celebrate together. During the longest night of the year, they eat special foods like nuts, pomegranates, and watermelons, whose red color symbolizes the crimson hues of dawn and the glow of life. Some stay awake all night long to welcome the sunrise.

Yalda Night

English festival: Burning the Clocks

  • Where: Brighton, England, UK
  • When: December 20, 21, or 22
  • Observed by: Citizens of Brighton

Burning the Clocks is a celebration based on a procession of lanterns and costumes made from willow canes and white tissue paper. The procession culminates in a lantern bonfire accompanied by fireworks. This festival was created as “an antidote to the excesses of the commercial Christmas.”

Burning the Clocks


When is the spring solstice?

There is no such thing as “spring solstice”. Solstices take place only in winter and summer. You probably mean the spring equinox that takes place around March 20 in the Northern Hemisphere and around September 23 in the Southern Hemisphere.

How to celebrate the winter solstice?

Each culture has its own way of celebrating the winter solstice. We suggest you do it in an astronomical style — go stargazing, look for some meteors or identify a bright star near the Moon. Or you can stay inside and prove your astronomy skills by taking a solstice-themed quiz.

Equinoxes & solstices quiz intro#2
Only 10% of people can get the top score in this tricky quiz about equinoxes and solstices!🌝🌏 Test your knowledge and try to join the elite few!
Take the quiz!

How does winter solstice affect pets?

In the same way, as it affects people — you might notice that your cat or dog sleeps a bit more than usual and is a little less active. Around winter solstice, we get the least amount of sunlight — therefore tend to sleep more and feel less energized, and so do our pets. There is even a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D., that makes people exhibit depressive symptoms at the same time each year.

Bottom line

Winter solstice takes place on December 21, 2024, in the Northern Hemisphere and on June 20, 2024, in the Southern Hemisphere. It marks the shortest day and longest night of the year and the first day of the winter in astronomical terms. This day is celebrated worldwide — even in Antarctica.