By Keerthi Chandrashekar / ( | First Posted: Dec 22, 2012 08:48 AM EST

(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

December 21, 2012 came and passed without any apocalypse. While Doomsday predictions and the Mayan calendar have been dominating most of the discussion worldwide, something else astronomically important happened on Friday: winter solstice.

Winter solstice essentially marks the halfway point during winter for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. The days will begin getting longer now, and the nights shorter.

Typically, the day of winter solstice is regarded as the shortest day and longest night of the year. This year, however, the shortest day is Dec. 22, according to Patch. This is because the shortest day occurs when the sun is at its southernmost latitude, which apparently doesn't happen until Dec. 22. 

Many cultures around the world have been celebrating winter solstice for thousands of years, but the astronomical event simply couldn't hold a candle to the much more popular Doomsday worries floating around this year. 

If you haven't heard already (really, where were you?), Dec. 21 marked the end of 13 bak'tuns in the Mayan calendar. Each bak'tun is 5,125 years long. Apocalyptic downers flooded the world with the thought that the end of the 13th bak'tun spelled the end of the world. Of course, today, Dec. 22, it's quite easy to dismiss that silly notion. 

While there are many among us whose daily lives were barely affected by Dec. 21 ("Is 'Doomsday' a good enough reason to call in sick today?"), there were also many who flocked to certain hot spots around the world to seek refuge against the impending doom. Revelers danced and performed rituals to their fate in the Mayan heartland of the Yucatan, somber groups from around the world waited at their pre-ordained UFO departure gates, and others instilled fears of mass suicides into governments. 

So sure, there'll be a lot of walks of shame, but it's more important now than ever to raise our heads and look to the future rather than shuffle our feet embarassingly. Instead, we should laugh at another one of our grand jokes, grab the potential of a new bak'tun, and utilize the longer days of post-winter solstice existence to meaningfully push our societies ahead. 

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