It might be five degrees outside and it’s raining all the time, but believe it or not, it’s still fall.
This year’s winter solstice will take place on Tuesday, December 21 at 3:58 p.m. GMT in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the first official day of winter. The winter solstice, sometimes referred to as “midwinter”, marks the day when the North Pole is furthest from the sun, resulting in the shortest day and longest night of the year.
After the solstice, the days will gradually lengthen, leading to the summer solstice which usually takes place around June 21.
Read more:World’s best winter solstice stargazing spots listed with first place in Wales
So what’s the problem ?
Years ago, the winter solstice played an incredibly important role in monitoring the seasons for agricultural purposes.
While today we are fortunate to have a constant influx of vegetables and fruits year round, our ancestors relied exclusively on foods grown or raised seasonally. Hundreds of years ago, the winter months often brought famine, and the months January through April were sometimes referred to as “famine months.”
In the past, around the time of the winter solstice, cattle and other livestock were slaughtered to avoid having to feed them all winter, which meant that meat was especially plentiful. Likewise, beers and wines that had been fermented earlier in the year also reached perfection by mid-winter.
With wine and meat in scarce abundance, many cultures around the world celebrated with a ‘last feast’ to lift the spirits before the cold and dark months to come, filling plates and wine cups to the brim. .
In ancient Rome, the winter solstice festival was called Saturnalia and was held in honor of Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture and harvest. Saturnus was akin to modern Christmas – gifts were offered and arguments forgiven, and social rules became so relaxed that even slaves were treated as equals, if only temporarily.
How is it celebrated today?
Traditions vary from culture to culture. In Japan, the fragrant fruits of yuzu are thrown into hot springs and public baths like a lucky totem; in Scandinavia, fires are lit and girls dress in white dresses with red belts in honor of Saint Lucia; and in Peru, there is a full-fledged festival – the Inti Raymi – to celebrate the winter solstice.
In the UK, rituals and celebrations often take place at Neolithic sites such as Stonehenge, led by contemporary Druids and archaeologists. This year you can even watch online.
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Stonehenge is designed to frame the winter and summer solstices.
The English Heritage website states: “At the summer solstice, around June 21, the sun rises behind the heel stone and its first rays shine in the heart of Stonehenge. Although the monument’s largest trilithon is no longer standing, the sun would have located between the narrow space of these uprights during the winter solstice.
Excavations of the Durrington Walls at the Stonehenge site suggest that people once had huge feasts around the Winter Solstice.
The website states: “Durrington Walls is a Neolithic settlement located about two miles from the monument. Archaeologists believe the people who built and used Stonehenge lived here. Recent excavations have revealed huge amounts of pig bones. and discarded cattle.
“Archaeologists have found that these animals were probably killed around the age of nine months. They would have been born in the spring, so it would appear that these pigs and cattle were slaughtered around the time of the winter solstice. alignment of the stones, it is possible that people have gathered at Stonehenge at this time of year to participate in parties, ceremonies and celebrations.
One of the liveliest solstice celebrations in the UK today is the Montol Festival, which takes place annually in Penzance, Cornwall.
The festival builds on many traditional Cornish customs in the middle of winter and on Christmas traditions once practiced in and around the Penzance region.
Bryn Celli Du
For pagans, druids and others, Bryn Celli Du (‘Mound in the Dark Grove’) is Wales’ most important Neolithic monument. Bryn Celli Du was originally thought to be a single-aisle tomb, but recent research has revealed that the tomb has a whole complex of cairns around the site that has grown over time.
The monument is an extremely complex 5,000-year-old burial chamber, and at the summer solstice – the longest day of the year – a ray of sunlight descends its main passage and illuminates the entire chamber. The pillar and stone edge of the monument are also positioned to measure the cycle of Venus and the winter solstice.
The Angelsey Druid Order (Urdd Derwyddon Môn), a group that celebrates indigenous Celtic culture, literature, arts and spiritualism, recently hosted a winter festival at Bryn Celli Ddu which attracted over 100 visitors and over of 6000 viewers online.
A spokesperson for the Order said: “Throughout human history, in many cultures, the winter solstice has been celebrated as the darkest and coldest part of the world. year ; communities came together to feast, celebrate family and friendship, warm up by the fireside and participate in the ritual to mark and celebrate the turning point where the days will begin to lengthen again.
“In Anglesey we are fortunate to have a 5,000 year old monument that is aligned with the midsummer sunrise and winter solstice sunset; celebrating at Bryn Celli Ddu helps us to feel a connection with our ancestors who once gathered there for a similar purpose. Covid had a huge impact on our celebrations; last year we were locked out and had to do an online-only ritual.
Reflecting on the recent ritual, they added: “It was a joy to be there in person again this year and to see over 100 people joining us in person. In some ways, the impact of Covid has been oddly positive, in that we realized how many people around the world are taking the opportunity to celebrate with us. We broadcast this year’s ritual live and several thousand people around the world enjoyed watching it. “
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