7 Cool Facts About the First Day of Winter (and Where to Visit Wichita’s Own Stonehenge)

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Winter evokes a time of calm and retreat. When I think of winter, I think about books being read under cozy blankets and cups of coffee warming hands and souls. I think about the joy of snow adventures with my kids, warm baths, knitted hats, and gloves. I also think about Christmas when I think of winter, but that is something new to me: the white and chili Christmas has been a real thing for my family -and not just a thing you see in the movies- only for the last three years!

I love winter. In fact, I love all the four seasons and the rhythm that they set in nature and in ourselves. In that space, I see winter as the time that makes grow an inner force that is going to be visible only the following spring. A time of pause and quiet to prepare for the blossom of life. I love winter and I look forward to its beginning every single year.

1. Winter starts twice each a year

Yes, you read it well. The first day of winter it’s when the winter solstice occurs, that is when one of the Earth’s poles is most tilted away from the sun. This happens twice every year: one time for each hemisphere.  Here in the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice occurs on December 21st, but for the southern hemisphere, the first day of winter is June 21st.   

2. The first day of winter is the shortest day of the year

The winter solstice day is the shortest day of the year, the one when we are going to have the least amount of sunlight. The good news is that everything is going to brighten up from now on!

Last winter solstice was the shortest one ever in my whole life: we were in Alaska visiting our friends, and that day sunrise happened after 8 am and sunset at 3 pm! As we were closer to the North Pole, everything changed faster and two weeks later the sky was still clear at 5 pm.

3. The first day of winter is not the coldest day (but could be)

Even when the first day of winter it’s the shortest day of the year and the one that gets the least amount of warm energy from the sun, usually it isn’t until the middle of January that we get the coldest temperatures. However, scientists say that the coldest day of the year could be anyone between the middle of December and the middle of January, so technically it is possible that the coldest day and the shortest one could be the same.

 4. There are two kinds of winter

There are two different kinds of winter: the astronomical winter and the meteorological winter, and both of them start on a different day. 

For astronomers, winter starts with the winter solstice, but for meteorologists, things are a little different: they deal with temperatures and snowstorms. They need to be able to compare temperatures for the same month each year, so it makes sense that for them, winter starts on December 1st and finishes at the end of February when the warm temperatures begin. 

5. The winter solstice was considered once the end of winter (and not its start!)

That sounds crazy! At least, the first time you learn about it, it’s kind of non-sense. But is it?

For many ancient cultures, winter represented death and danger, as they struggled to survive during winter. For them, a sign that winter was ending was a reason for celebration and a moment of spiritual rejoice. If we think that after the winter solstice, days only grow longer, it makes sense to think that the worst had happened. So when they celebrated the winter solstice, they weren’t celebrating that winter was coming but that winter was ending.

There are some archaeological sites that researches think were built to celebrate the winter solstice: probably Stonehenge in England is one of the more well known, but there are similar monuments in Ireland, Scotland, and Germany in Europe and other closer to us, like in Tulum, Mexico, and Nazca, Peru. 

6. You can’t see the winter solstice

Technically, we are not able to “see” the solstice but, it is possible to see its effects.

We are able to notice how sunlight hours have been decreasing and after the winter solstice, they start to increase again. Also, your shadow at midday is going to be its longest during the winter solstice. You can take advantage of this and shoot a great picture of your long dreamed legs!

7. If you live in Wichita, you can experience the winter solstice at its fullest.

All you need to do to have an amazing winter solstice experience in Wichita is to visit our own “Stonehenge”,  the Solar Calendar in Riverside Park, just a short walk from the Riverside Wild Exhibit.

Big yellow rocks beautifully decorated are standing in a circle, aligned with the movement of our sun. There is an enigmatic and mysterious blue eye atop one of them. In the middle of this stone structure, three ground stones are precisely located,  containing each one a medallion with a central glassy surface piece on it. At noon, during some very special days along the year, the sunbeams pass through the blue eye and hit directly on the central piece of the medallions. “Utterly charming” and “great teaching device” are the words that Clonehenge -the blog with the most complete list of Stonehenge’s replicas in the world- uses to describe our local solar calendar.

You guessed well, one of these very special days is December 21st (and the others are June 21st, September 22nd, and March 21st). I know this is pure science, but for me is also kind of magical. And probably I’m not the only one that thinks like this!

Solar Calendar at Riverside Park. Atop of the big standing stone is the blue eye, and the three ground stones aligned to it. Details of three medallions for the solstices and equinoxes.

To complete the experience, you may want to pay a visit to Leslie Coffee Co. or Reverie Coffee Roasters at the downtown library for a cup of delicious hot cocoa for you and your family.

The first day of winter is a special day, one that had been celebrated since the beginnings of the human race. It’s a day of very long shadows, a late sunrise, and an early sunset. During the first day of winter, you have the chance to see how a sunbeam goes through an enigmatic blue eye atop a stone and hit a crystal in the center of a medallion in the ground. And in case you needed something else, you are a short ride away from delicious hot cocoa. That, my friends, makes the first day of winter an amazing day!

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Eliana Martinez Shapasnikoff
Eliana lives in Andover with her wife and their triplets. Originally from Argentina, she is happy to raise her kids experiencing different cultures from the places the family has lived in: Buenos Aires City, Maschwitz, Costa Rica, Arkansas, and ICT area since June 2019. So here she is, trying to keep it all together at home while working part-time as an IT Consultant, volunteering in her kid’s school, and cheering at recitals, races, and games. She also manages to steal time to do what she loves: running, riding her bike, building relationships, and writing about her adventures, feelings, and thoughts.

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