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The winter solstice occurs exactly when the axial tilt of a planet’s polar hemisphere is farthest away from the star that it orbits.

Earth’s maximum axial tilt to our star, the Sun, during a solstice is 23° 26′.  More evidently from high latitudes, a hemisphere’s winter solstice occurs on the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun’s daily maximum elevation in the sky is the lowest. Since the winter solstice lasts only a moment in time, other terms are often used for the day on which it occurs, such as ‘midwinter’, ‘the longest night’ or ‘the first day of winter’.

Worldwide, interpretation of the event has varied from culture to culture, but most cultures have held a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time (e.g. Dōngzhì Festival in East Asia, the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, the Inca festival of Inti Raymi, to name but a few).