Life in Alaska: Winter Solstice

The changing of the seasons is very important in Alaska. Weather can be extreme in the state, to say the least. Temperatures in the interior can get as cold as sixty degrees below zero Fahrenheit (without wind chill) in the winter and as hot as ninety degrees above zero Fahrenheit in summer. In a lot of the state, snow is on the ground more months than it’s not. This makes the changing of the seasons very important to Alaskans.

On a clear night, winter solstice is a great time to watch for the Aurora.
On a clear night, winter solstice is a great time to watch for the Aurora.

Winter solstice marks the point in the year where the day is at its shortest and the night is at its longest. It typically occurs around December 21st in North America. Winter solstice is important to Alaskans because it marks the return of summer, the return of long days and the promise of warmer weather. Utqiaġvik (formally known as Barrow), Alaska survives in 67 days of darkness during the winter months. Following winter solstice, Utqiaġvik gains almost 9 minutes of daylight. Fairbanks gains about 7 minutes and Anchorage gains around 6 minutes. That gain in daylight happens until the summer solstice.

Fairbanks, Alaska is called the “Land of the Midnight Sun.” Because Fairbanks is below the arctic circle it has almost but not quite 24 hours of sunlight leading up to the summer solstice. Contrary to the winter solstice, the summer solstice is the point in the year where the day is the longest and the night is the shortest. Communities above the arctic circle, like Utqiaġvik, experience almost 90 days of continual sunlight. A common saying that goes around the state is that Alaska plays hard during the summer months to make up for the dark and cold during the winter months. Many people will misjudge the time due to the amount of daylight. Much to the consternation of many Alaskans (and tourists), the constant sunlight during the months of summer also means that the sky is not dark enough to see the aurora borealis.

There are many festivals and activities that mark the coming of winter and summer solstice. In Fairbanks is the Midnight Sun Run, where runners dress up in costumes and run a 10 kilometer race under the midnight sun. Winter is celebrated with bonfires and a parade of lights all during the month of December in Talkeetna, Alaska. The coming of spring is celebrated in Alaska as well as Anchorage hosts its annual Fur Rondy. And Dillingham hosts the Beaver Roundup. No matter which time of year is preferred, there is always plenty to celebrate in the long summer or short winter days in Alaska.

If you can’t enjoy the solstice festivals in Alaska, let us bring Alaska to you!  Order an Alaska Cache Box and get unique Alaskan gifts sent to you every three months.

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