The shortest day of the year and the official start of winter, Winter Solstice is when the sun reaches its most southern point in the sky at noon. After that, the days start getting longer!
According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, the earliest winter since 1896, arrived this morning with the solstice at 6:12, Dec. 21, 2012. The word solstice comes from the Latin words for "sun" and "to stand still," according to www.almanac.com.
Cultures throughout the Northern Hemisphere have long celebrated the solstice with festivals, gatherings or rituals - as a time for reflection, rebirth and feasting - not unlike some Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve celebrations.
Ancient peoples slaughtered cattle and feasted to save feeding them during the leanest months of the year, it's been reported.
The sparkling lights with which people decorate their homes during the Christmas holiday season, also had ancient roots, according to Huffington Post blogger Nancy Rubin Stuart.
"Primitive man reacted to winter's long nights by lighting bonfires in their villages and illuminating their homes with oil lamps."
Some people "maintained fires until the holiday was over, extinguishing them to symbolize the end of troubles from the old year," wrote Stuart.
Here's how a few local residents observe the winter solstice:
• Ramona Winkeller, operations manager at KAFM community radio, said she lights candles, and ceremonially reflects back on what she is grateful for.
"First, I celebrate all the wonderful things of the past year. Then, I write down on little pieces of paper, what I want to leave behind, and not carry into the new year."
She burns those papers in a fire, and blesses them for the lessons learned, she said.
"Then, I set intentions for what I want to create in the upcoming new year; and then I go back to gratitude."
• The winter solstice is doubly special for writer Sandy Dorr and her family, as it often falls on her daughter's birthday.
"We light candles throughout the house and make a French buche de noel - a delicate chocolate cake that looks like Yule logs for the big fires that were held on the solstice and Christmas in France," Dorr said.
• Art gallery owner Caole Lowry has celebrated the solstice for many years with a potluck supper and gathering around a bonfire at her home.
"It's really the end of the year for me. I like to welcome the sun, return of the light. As the longest night, it's a time for contemplation, a metaphor for the dark night of the soul.
"This year I've invited everyone to bring a candle we'll light by the fire. Guests are also invited to write down on a slip of paper something they want to let go, as well as something they wish to create in their life.
"We put it in the fire as a prayer," Lowry said.
• Grand Junction resident Scott Troy observes the solstice with a "cleaning ritual" taught to him years ago, he said.
He soaks in a bathtub or hot tub, and reflects on what's occurred - both good and bad over the past year, he said.
Then, he showers off what he wants to let go of. Then, it's time for another soak where he focuses on what he hopes to accomplish in the coming new year - and that seals it until the next solstice, Troy said.
• Each year the Unitarian Universalist Church holds a solstice ceremony, with rituals that differ each year. Last year Fruita astronomer Danny Rosen gave a multimedia presentation on the universe. The church gathering usually includes soup and baked goods.
• Wedding officiant Marc Foster said for many years the winter solstice was simply a good excuse to have a party. He'd light a big bonfire, serve chili, and there would be music and dancing.
"I'm a casual observer of the solstice," he said. "I always track it, celebrate in some way."
This year, Foster said he and his wife are going to Glade Park for some quiet time.
• Mesa County Libraries director Eve Tallman said: "I don't celebrate in a way that you'd notice...I just breathe a huge sigh of relief that the days will start to grow longer on the day after solstice! In this way, it's one of my favorite days of the year."