Earliest sunsets around December 8, not at winter solstice

Huh.  I had NO idea about this little quirk of astronomy.  Courtesy of the brilliant folks at EarthSky.org:

The 2011 solstice comes on December 21 or 22, depending on your time zone. But the earliest sunsets for middle latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere are happening around now.

It seems paradoxical. At middle latitudes in the U.S. – and throughout the Northern Hemisphere – the earliest sunsets of the year come about two weeks before the solstice and the shortest day of the year.

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