Winter Solstice: When Does Winter Start?
The first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere is in December; south of the equator, it is in June. Find out exactly when the winter season starts.
Winter Dates for 2023 and 2024
Winter Solstice, Northern Hemisphere (December)
North America, Europe, most of Asia, Northern Africa
In Washington DC, District of Columbia, USA: Thursday, December 21, 2023 at 10:27 pm EST (Change location)
This corresponds to Friday, December 22, 2023 at 03:27 UTC.
Winter Solstice, Southern Hemisphere (June)
Australia, New Zealand, South America, southern Africa
In Washington DC, District of Columbia, USA: Thursday, June 20, 2024 at 4:50 pm EDT (Change location)
This corresponds to Thursday, June 20, 2024 at 20:50 UTC.
Alternative Winter Start Dates
Meteorologists use a different method of defining the first day of winter. And, in some countries, the beginning of the seasons is determined by average temperatures rather than fixed dates or astronomical events.
Days Get Longer During Winter
Astronomical winter begins at the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year. This means days get longer during winter—very slowly at first, but at ever-larger daily intervals as the March equinox approaches, heralding the start of spring.
Locations closer to the poles experience larger differences in day length throughout the year, so winter days are shorter there. In Toronto, the shortest day is just under 8 hours and 56 minutes long; in Miami, roughly 2000 kilometers or 1200 miles farther south, it lasts about 10 hours and 32 minutes.
Places within the polar circles experience polar night during all or part of the winter season when the Sun does not rise at all.
Longer Days, but Falling Temperatures
Although daylight hours increase during the winter months, temperatures continue to fall in most regions. This is because it takes time for Earth, particularly its oceans, to change temperature—an effect known as seasonal lag. (As a comparison, the planet Mars has seasons but no oceans, so there is almost no seasonal lag.)
Winter Traditions and Folklore
The start of winter and the winter solstice are celebrated in cultures and religions around the world with various traditions, holidays, and festivals.
In the Northern Hemisphere, astronomical and meteorological winter runs from December to March. South of the equator, it starts in June and ends in September. Read more about the history and meaning of the winter months:
Northern winter months
Southern winter months
How Long Is Winter?
The Earth does not move at a constant speed in its elliptical orbit, so the seasons are not of equal length. On average, winter lasts for 89.0 days in the Northern Hemisphere and 93.6 days in the Southern Hemisphere.
Average season lengths: