On December 21, 2012 at exactly 11:12 AM here in Bend, Oregon, the Winter Solstice will occur. That time is the precise moment when the sun will be at the lowest point above the horizon making December 21st the shortest day of the year. In reality, solstice is less than just the shortest day, it's just a moment in time.
In Bend, according to the world clock, December 20th and 21st are the same length, except by ONE second. On December 20th and December 21st, 2012, the sunrise will be at the same time: 7:37 am and the sunset will be at the same time: 4:30 pm. But on December 20th the day length will 8 hours and 52 minutes and 49 seconds. On December 21st the day length will be 8 hours and 52 minutes and 48 seconds. December 21st will have ONE less second than the day before and will be the shortest day of the year. Starting December 22nd, the days get increasingly longer.
Winter is the coldest season of the year and the darkness may not seem like a reason to celebrate, but throughout history the solstice is associated with celebration because it signals the RETURN of light. We're not celebrating the darkest day of the year, but rather the fact that days will get longer--and lighter--going forward. Even though the solistice marks the beginning of winter, it actually is the beginning of more sunlight and less darkness, which brings the distant promise of far off spring.
This solstice celebration takes many forms around the world. At this time of year, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, Romans celebrated the festival of saturnalia, and in Norse country YULE was the word for the pre-Christian winter solstice festival. In Scandinavia, the JUL log was lit to honor the god Thor. In Poland this time of the year is called Gody. In Pakistan it is called Chaomos.
Another note of interest is that this year, 2012, the Winter Solstice marks the END of the Mayan calendar. The last date of their calendar is December 20, 2012 and doomsday preppers are busy getting ready for the so called “end of the world”. Personally, I have a feeling we will still be here, and December will march on into January without a hitch--albeit lighter and little closer to spring.