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December 21, 2012 : Winter Solstice, first day of winter

Dec 21 (): In 2012, the earliest winter since 1896 arrives with the solstice at 6:12 am on Friday, December 21 (EST). This day will experience the shortest day of the year and the longest night with Thursday and Friday having just nine hours and six minutes of light and from now on the days will be longer.

The word solstice comes from the Latin words for “sol” for “sun” and “stice” for “to stand still.”

Today, the sun will reach a point where it will appear to shine farthest to the south of the equator, over the Tropic of Capricorn, which marks the exact moment of winter solstice — beginning of winter season. Since June 20, altitude of midday sun has been decreasing as its direct rays have been gradually migrating to the south.

On the winter solstice day, Earth’s northern hemisphere reaches its maximum tilt away from the sun. So, on winter solstice, the northern hemisphere continues to lose more incoming solar energy than it receives, that is the reason winter’s coldest days lie ahead. This year’s winter solstice day, December 21 also marks the end of the Long Count cycle of the Mayan calendar, which few people believe as the indication of the end of the world.

NASA has explained through a video posted in the web about the meaningless fear revolving among the masses. They say the calendar simply gets over, much like an odometer in a car with a limit of 99,999 miles that would again start over.

In ancient times, at the time around winter solstice day Romans celebrated a lavish Roman of Saturnalia, the same as that of bacchanalian thanksgiving festival. And in 275 A.D., the Roman Emperor Aurelian observed a feast which coincided with winter solstice: Die Natalis Invicti Solis (“The birthday of the Unconquered Sun”).

Today, people are gathering at Stonehenge to mark this year’s winter solstice. On last year’s winter solstice day, more than 1,000 people visited Stonehenge.

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