2011-12-22 / Entertainment

The Winter Solstice

Each year individuals count down to the first day of winter, be it in anticipation of the new season or with anguish that the warmer weather is a distant memory. The first day of winter is also known as the winter solstice.

The winter solstice occurs exactly when the axial tilt of the earth is the farthest away from the sun. The winter solstice features the shortest number of daylight hours and the longest number of nighttime hours. Therefore, the winter solstice is also often referred to as the shortest day of the year for people living in the Northern Hemisphere.

The winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere also marks the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere, because locations below the equator experience the opposite seasons as in the north due to the tilt of the earth toward the sun. At the extreme poles – the Antarctic circle in the Southern Hemisphere and the Arctic circle in the Northern – there is a different type of phenomenon that takes place. The Arctic circle falls under 24 hours of darkness on the winter solstice, while the Antarctic circle has 24 hours of daylight.

Without the tilt of the earth there would be no seasons around the planet. Around the latitudinal lines the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn, there really is no fluctuation in season because the sun is never low in the sky -- meaning it is always hot and humid. Only those living above and below experience varied seasons.

Due to less sunlight at the winter solstice and for much of the winter months, individuals may want to take steps to boost their exposure to the sun while they can. This can improve mood and also contribute to the production of vitamin D in the body, an essential vitamin for bone health and physical well being. Those who experience seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, where pronounced feelings of the blues occur in conjunction with the longer hours of darkness, light therapy, vitamin supplementation, counseling, or medication may help alleviate symptoms.

To maximize the hours of sunlight received at home, people can clear away branches and shrubs from windows and open up the drapes widely to allow rays to shine through. The installation of skylights or sun ports can enable the sun to reach indoors wherever it is in the sky at a given time.

Despite the chilly weather, workers can take walks on their lunch breaks or simply spend the hour outdoors just as they would when the summer is in full swing.

Artificial light can help banish the doldrums associated with the winter solstice. Turning on holiday lights or other accent lighting and candles can create an intimate feeling on this day.

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