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Winter Solstice is today, Dec. 21, 2009, the day when the Earth tilts farthest away from the sun. It’s the shortest day of the year and the official start of winter. The word “solstice” comes from the Latin “sun stands still” and celebrations of the solstice pre-date Christmas. Stonehenge in England is the site of solstice festivals, apparently dating back some 4,500 years ago, when the site was in its proper cultural context. Some experts now believe that Stonehenge was the site of an ancient barbecue and midwinter celebration that culminated on the Winter Solstice, which also marks the beginning of longer days. From today’s Guardian: “Recent analysis of the cattle and pig bones from the era found in the area suggests the cattle used were walked hundreds of miles to be slaughtered for the solstice celebrations – from the west country or west Wales.”

And from English Heritage: “The monument we see today still inspires awe and admiration. Stonehenge attracts some 800,000 visitors a year and on the summer Solstice, thousands of people gather to watch the sunrise. Although thousands of years older than the Druids, the stone circle witnessed many druidic ceremonies, especially during the 19th century.”

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