The longest night of the year seemed to drop in early on Friday afternoon with a blanket of fog and rain over Maine.

The winter solstice occurred at 5:23 p.m. in the Northern Hemisphere as the sun moved directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, or 23.5 degrees south latitude.

The winter solstice brings the shortest day of the year, with just 8 hours and 56 minutes of sunlight in Portland and even less in Lubec, to the northeast, which saw only 8 hours and 47 minutes of sunlight.

Solstices occur because the Earth spins on a tilted axis, so that for half the year the North Pole is pointed toward the sun, and the South Pole is pointed toward the sun during the other half of the year.

For some, the winter solstice is a time to hunker indoors, preferably in front of a fireplace with a warm drink in hand and woolen socks on the feet.

Others embrace the dark, seeking lights and company as would the ancient pagans, who celebrated with feasts and toasts.

Thousands of people gather at Stonehenge in England to watch the sunrise on the winter solstice.

In Maine, much smaller winter solstice celebrations take place around the state, such as Harpswell Heritage Land Trust’s Winter Solstice Lantern Walk, the Maine Audubon Winter Solstice Celebration with Spirit Passages at Gilsland Farm in Falmouth, and the Belfast Unitarian Universalist Church Winter Solstice event.


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