Winter Solstice

Yesterday was the winter solstice, the time when the sun is furthest away from us. The sun rises around 7.30 am in Auckland and 8.20 am in Dunedin because it is further south. In Auckland the sun sets at 11 minutes past 5, and in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, just before 5pm. This is the longest night and the shortest day. For the next week or more, we won’t see any difference in the time of sunrise and sunset. In the Northern Hemisphere it is the summer solstice with the shortest night and the longest day.

We also call this time of year mid-winter although it is not the middle of our winter. Our coldest weather usually starts about now and lasts for the next six weeks. Many people like to celebrate mid-winter in different ways. Some people invite their friends to a mid-winter Christmas dinner because for Europeans a traditional Christmas is in winter. Perhaps they just want to have a celebration in the middle of winter.

Another custom is a mid-winter swim in the sea. In most towns and cities in New Zealand, people take a quick dip in the sea on the shortest day. Sometimes they raise money for charity at the same time. In the Antarctica, the scientists at Scott Base also have a quick dip in the sea to celebrate the winter solstice. They first have to cut a hole in the ice, then each person is lowered into the sea wearing a safety harness. The water temperature is around -2 degrees; it doesn’t freeze because of the salt in the water.

Maori celebrate the beginning of winter with Matariki. Traditionally, Matariki is the time of the first new Moon after the Matariki (or Pleiades or Seven Sisters) group of stars appears in the sky. This year it was June 6th although the celebrations go on for a month or more. Many New Zealanders now join in these Matariki celebrations.

Other cultures also celebrate the beginning of winter but they choose a different date. In China, it is not the solstice or the equinox – that is halfway between the two solstices. The beginning of winter is celebrated halfway between the equinox and the solstice, about 91 days before the winter solstice.






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  1. This story about environment and weather

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