Google Doodle Celebrates Winter in the Northern Hemisphere

The Google Doodle for December 21 marks the official beginning of winter, with a cute animation of a hedgehog walking around covered in pinecones, sycamore leaves and other scraps of foliage.

It's quite an odd choice of creature to represent the season given that, like a lot of other mammals, hedgehogs typically hibernate from October through to April. Yet, if you put questions of scientific accuracy to one side, it is an endearing image that cozily ushers in the winter period for internet users.

Speaking of which, if you were wondering why the Google Doodle has only just debuted after weeks of U.S. residents preparing for the holidays and enduring colder temperatures, that's because Tuesday is technically the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

The December solstice always occurs on the 21st or 22nd day of the month, specifically when the North Pole is tilted as far away from the sun as possible. This results in the longest night of the year for those north of the equator and, for astronomers, it also marks the official start of winter. The season then lasts until the vernal equinox on March 20, when spring begins.

If you are worried about the nights getting even longer now, rest assured that December 21 is the shortest day on the calendar. After the winter solstice has passed, we should be getting progressively more hours of daylight until summer finally rolls around.

While December 21 sees the transition from fall to winter in the U.S, over on the other side of the globe the situation is very different. For those in the Southern Hemisphere, the day actually marks the beginning of summer.

This is because, when the North Pole tilts away from the sun, the South Pole is conversely angled towards it. As such, regions like Australia, New Zealand, South America and the southernmost parts of Africa are all about to experience their longest day of the year.

If you want a more in-depth explanation of the summer and winter solstices and how they are celebrated around the world, check out our guide here.

If you click on Tuesday's Google Doodle, it will take you through to an answer box that informs you that winter begins on December 21 and runs up until March 20. While this is true for astronomers, it is worth noting that many organizations, like the U.K.'s weather forecasting Met Office, classify the start of winter as December 1 instead (based on the meteorological definition of seasons).

Snow in Central Park with Google Doodle
Image shows a wintery scene in Central Park, on February 21, 2021. The December 21 Google Doodle is also featured in the image, as this marks the official beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. John Smith/VIEW/Getty Images / Google