The winter solstice is celebrated around the world as the beginning of the return of the sun, and darkness turning into light. In 2011, the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere will occur on Dec. 22, 2011 at 12:30 a.m. EST. Officially the first day of winter, the winter solstice occurs when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. This is the longest night of the year, meaning that despite the cold winter, the days get progressively longer after the winter solstice until the summer solstice in 2012. For those in the Northern Hemisphere, it marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year.

The word “solstice” comes from the Latin word “solstitum”, that means the Sun standing still. This is reference to the fact that the Sun no longer appears to be moving either further north or south on the sky and afterward starts to reverse its direction. The actual moment of the solstice varies by a day or two every year because of the way our modern, aka Gregorian, calendar works.

For many ancient and indigenous cultures throughout history, the winter solstice marked a critical time for survival.

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