The Winter Solstice – Celebrating A Seasonal Journey

Even as you sit on your sofa this festive season, planning your 2017 assorted trips and adventures, you’re already on a most spectacular journey.

Yes indeed, citizens of Earth, our home planet is swirling around and around in a heavenly dance which gives us our seasons, our changing views of the sky, and our day and night. It’s a glittering fandango which started with the formation of the early Universe and will continue long after the audience has departed.


We don’t physically notice it, of course, at least not in same giddy way we’d notice if we were being twirled around on the dance floor of Blackpool’s famous ballroom. But it’s happening, and tomorrow that dance routine reaches one of its classic moves – the winter solstice.

Extreme Perspectives

It happens when the North Pole is tilted furthest away from the Sun, giving those of us in the Northern Hemisphere their shortest day.

Those in the Southern Hemisphere will conversely have their longest day, so I guess the term ‘winter solstice’ is probably not the fairest way to describe it from a global point of view.

Let’s say ‘December solstice’ shall we? Just to be ‘hemispherically’ correct.

Druid Celebrations

Pivotal moments such as this solstice have been celebrated (and sometimes feared) through the ages by many cultures, and it’s also commonly known as the focal point of the season for Pagans, more so than the June solstice by some accounts.

The exact time of the solstice varies each year, and so does the actual date – it usually falls on the 21st of December but the full range is the 20th-23rd, something the Druids need to heed, to make sure they turn up at Stonehenge on the right day.

‘Tis the Season

A common misconception is that it’s the Earth’s distance from the Sun that causes the seasons – but it’s the aforementioned tilt of the Earth that results in our seasonal variations.

Otherwise (think about it), both hemispheres would experience the same season at the same time, and if you’ve ever spent Christmas in Australia…..well……

It’s not an easy phenomenon to describe without the aid of visuals, so I’m taking the lazy option and suggesting you check out this video…. or this one.  Or the diagram below may help.

The Changing Seasons

Changing Views

As much as I love my conventional travels, I also hold dear my cosmic journey in the elegant carriage of planet Earth. It’s an amazing thing, when you look up into a dazzling night sky, and suddenly remember that you’re waltzing around in space.

Star Trails by Nilesh & Anshul

The sun rises and sets as the world keeps turning, and the Moon shines hope upon us.

The seasons come and go and we make our travel plans, year in, year out.

We dream, we work hard and with providence, we may achieve.

And all the while, though we often forget it, we’re already on the ride of our lives.

I, for one, try to remember that, and celebrate it as often as possible.


Celestial Journeys: 7 Fun Facts

1. The term ‘solstice’ derives from the Latin word ‘solstitium’, meaning ‘Sun standing still’. It describes the points at which the Sun appears to change direction in the sky.

2. Until English scientist Isaac Newton founded the science of celestial mechanics over 300 years ago, the irregular movement of the planets caused much confusion among scholars and laypersons alike.

3. The Sun is 400 times larger than the Moon but it’s also 400 times further away from Earth. This is why they appear to be the same size and it’s why total solar eclipses can happen. What are the odds of that? Well, we don’t really know, to be honest. We haven’t found any similar planetary systems yet, but we’ve barely started to look. It IS pretty awesome though.

4. When the Moon is directly above your head, or if you stand at the equator, you weigh (ever so slightly) less.

5.  The Moon spins around on its axis in the same amount of time it takes to orbit the Earth once – so we always see the same side of it.

6.  The light from the Sun takes over 8 minutes to reach the Earth – but the Sun IS approximately 150 million km away from us.

7.  The song “Save the Best for Last” sung by Vanessa Williams, contains one of the most glaring examples of factually erroneous lyrics:

      “Sometimes the snow comes down in June

       Sometimes the sun goes round the moon

Errr….no it doesn’t.  Not ever.

The moon goes around the Earth, which goes round the sun, due to the effects of gravity.

If the line had read..

      “Sometimes the snow comes down in June

       Sometimes the sun may LOOK like it’s going round the moon, especially if you happen to be on the moon, but it’s just the effect of celestial dynamics viewed from a different perspective”

    …I’d accept it, although it wouldn’t fit in with the meter of the song…

Sara Dobak

Hi, I’m Sara, founder and writer at Travel Continuum, where I write about my global travel experiences, with a special passion for the stars and sustainability. I believe in the power of education through travel, and here I share the tales and tips that I find interesting and inspiring. I hope that you do too. continuum /kənˈtɪnjʊəm/: a sequence of elements where the extremes are very different, but each individual stage is barely distinguishable from the next. Something that keeps going, changing gradually over time…like the seasons.

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8 Responses

  1. I love this post and to learn so much about the solstice. Glad it’s past and we can look forward to more light each and every day. Never thought about the tilt of the earth, I always thought it was the distance. Interesting! The first photo is magnificent. Happy holidays to you.

    • Sara Dobak says:

      So glad you found it interesting, Alison! The tilt is also why you get the 6 months of no sun/permanent sun at the poles, and why the equatorial regions have the least variance between the length of day and night!

  2. Lucy says:

    How interesting! For me the solstice is always a relief that the days are going to start getting longer (albeit very slowly) but I didn’t know there was so much more to it.

    • Sara Dobak says:

      Thanks Lucy, I do love many aspect of the winter season but admit to welcoming the lengthening days too 🙂

  3. Wow – what a great post! So informative. I really must stand under the moon more if I weight less when I do 🙂

    • Sara Dobak says:

      Haha…thanks 🙂 Can you imagine if everyone caught on to that?! There’d be hordes of people following the Moon about!

  4. I had no idea that the soltices could fall on different days! It is all fascinating. Love the star trails too and would love to try my hand at photographing them sometime.

    • Sara Dobak says:

      Yes, those slight variances sometime add up to make things happen a day earlier or later – but I believe the next winter solstice on the 23rd won’t happen for another couple of hundred years or more. The trails are courtesy of another…but yes, an attempt to photograph them must be on the cards soon!

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