Longest Day

The official onset of the winter season in the northern hemisphere began today, December 22, 2014 at 7:03 AM (PST)

Engr. Dario Dela Cruz, PAGASA Space Sciences and Astronomy Section Chief, says the Philippines will start to experience longer nights as the sun reaches the winter solstice today.

The word solstice is derived from the Latin words sol, which means “sun,” and sistere meaning to “stand still.” Therefore, solstice literally translates into “the sun stands still.”

The winter solstice is an astronomical phenomenon, which occurs every year, signaling the shortest day and the longest night in the northern hemisphere in December, and June in the southern hemisphere.

Simply put, while winter begins in the northern hemisphere today, summer starts in the southern hemisphere.

During the winter solstice, the northern hemisphere leans the farthest away from the sun, bringing longer nights and lower temperatures for people living in the northern hemisphere. The opposite happens in the southern hemisphere where people experience the longest day.

The changing seasons are caused, not by the distance of the Earth from the Sun, but by the tilt of the earth. Aside from the solstices which occur during June and December, we also experience equinoxes in the months of March and September, which results to an approximately equal duration of night and day time.

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Some solstice traditions are celebrated in cognizance of this important astronomical occurrence. Since ancient times, the “rebirth of the Sun” is commemorated in a variety of ways.

The ancient Egyptians, for one, celebrates the return of Ra, the god of the Sun, after recovering from his supposed illness. The Romans, on the other hand, holds the ancient festival of Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of Agriculture. The latter is closely related with the modern Christmas celebration during which gift giving is a key aspect.

In Scandinavia, Norse families light Yule logs and feast until the logs burn out, which could take as long as 12 days. Meanwhile, for the Chinese, an important festival called Dong Zhi or the arrival of winter is a perfect time for families to get together to celebrate the past year.