Why This Winter Solstice Is Not The Longest Night Of The Year

The Winter Solstice celebration began with a single beat of a drum. As darkness fell, the flickering of candles illuminated the quickly darkening room. A sole drummer in the center of the crowded circle held the large frame drum, signaling the start of the dance. The rest of the drummers fell into succession, inspiring the gyration of dancers. The female leader led the group in a chant invoking the spirit of the earth and the celebration of light. As the crowd danced and sang, the beat of the drums grew stronger, louder, as the group welcomed the advent of Winter Solstice with reverence and celebration.

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The Unity Church in Boulder, Colorado is not alone in honoring the solstice. Multitudes of Winter Solstice celebrations are held across the world, marking what is known as the official start of winter and the longest night of the year. Some celebrations begin at sundown and continue until daybreak. There was speculation that during this year’s Winter Solstice, the revelers would be extending their party a bit longer.

Vox had originally reported that this Winter Solstice would have been the longest on record but corrected the story stating that data indicates that the rotation speed of the Earth has actually sped up slightly over the past forty years.

As noted on MTV News, the longest night in Earth’s history likely occurred in 1912, and the 2014 Winter Solstice could have taken the crown if it wasn’t for that pesky thing otherwise known as climate change. Melting polar ice redistributes Earth’s mass, thus speeding up the planet’s rotation speed, similar to an ice skater extending or drawing in her arms.

Why does this occur? Every year, on December 21 or 22, the planetary tilt means that locations in the northern hemisphere get the shortest duration of sunlight and will experience the shortest day and longest night. On June 21 or 22, they get the longest days and shortest nights. The opposite occurs in the southern hemisphere.

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The axial tilt of Earth and gyroscopic effects of the planet’s daily rotation keep the axis of rotation pointed at the same point in the sky. As the Earth follows its orbit around the Sun, the same hemisphere that faced away from the Sun, experiencing winter, will, in half a year, face towards the Sun and experience summer. This is because the two hemispheres face opposite directions along the planetary pole, as one polar hemisphere experiences winter, the other experiences summer.

While this may not have been the longest Winter Solstice of recent record, this year revelers can extend the drum beat a bit longer and enjoy the New Moon and the Ursid Meteor Shower that is set to peak on December 22 and December 23.

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Need some tips on how to celebrate the Winter Solstice? Click here.

[Images courtesy of The Overroll; Tau’olunga; and Express UK