Winter solstice 2021: When is the shortest day of the year? What does winter solstice symbolise?

The winter solstice marks the astronomical first day of winter - here is everything you need to know about it.

Winter solstice moonrise. (Pic credit: Andrew Higgins)

The winter solstice occurs twice a year; once in the Northern hemisphere and again in the Southern hemisphere.

For centuries, the winter solstice has been noted as a significant time of year for many cultures and as such has been celebrated in festivals and rituals.

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What is the winter solstice?

The winter solstice, also known as the hiemal solstice or hibernal solstice, usually occurs when either of the Earth’s poles reaches its peak tilt away from the sun.

It has marked the symbolic death and rebirth of the sun.

The solstice is thought to have been a special moment of the annual cycle for some cultures even as far back as Neolithic times.

Astronomical events such as the solstice were frequently used to guide people and animals, for example the mating of animals, the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter reserves of food.

The winter solstice was crucial because people were economically reliant on monitoring the development of the seasons.

When is the winter solstice?

The event will occur on December 21 this year at around 3.59pm.

It is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, which makes it the shortest day of the year.