Stonehenge Winter Solstice

At various times and in different (mostly Northern European) cultures, the solstice has gone by different names, such as Yule, Midwinter, and Jól. Nowadays, the solstice gets overshadowed by its more commercial and religious winter relatives: Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa; but plenty of people still celebrate the winter solstice in its own right.


If you’ve ever wondered what the solstice is, or why it matters, here’s the lowdown.

What is it?

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. From June to December, the days shorten and shorten until the solstice. After the winter solstice, days gradually grow longer again (yay!), which brings warmer temperatures. On the actual solstice, the North Pole gets zero energy from the sun — that is, no sunlight at all.

In the summer, we celebrate the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. (In the Southern Hemisphere, everything is flip-flopped — they’re celebrating the summer solstice in December.)

When is it?

Each year, the winter solstice falls on either December 21 or 22. This year, it takes place Tuesday, December 22 at 4:48 UTC (December 21 at 11:48 p.m. EST).

But I noticed the sun started setting later before the solstice…

An astute observation! Depending on where you live, the shortest day of the year doesn’t necessarily fall on the day with the earliest sunset or the latest sunrise. This has to do with what’s called “true solar noon,” the time when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. In early December, solar noon is about ten minutes earlier than it is when we hit the solstice. Thus, depending on the latitude where you live, the sunset may actually be slightly later on the solstice than it was earlier in the month. The closer you live to the Arctic, the more closely the earliest sunset and the winter solstice will match up.

What about the latest sunrise?

Unless you live in the Arctic Circle, the latest sunrise usually arrives in early January, which makes sense, knowing that solar noon moves later in the day starting in early December. There’s a variation in solar noon and noon on the clock, because of the tilt of the earth’s axis and the earth’s not-quite-circular orbit around the sun.

How long have we known about the solstice?

Our earliest ancestors tracked the seasons and years by changes in the sky: the movement of the sun, stars, and moon. Stonehenge is one of the most famous monuments in the world built to observe and celebrate our trek around the sun. Nowadays, 3,000 to 5,000 people visit Stonehenge to watch the sunrise on the winter solstice and up to 30,000 visit for the summer solstice.

Article source: Refinery 29

Solstice Events U.K operate guided tours from London and Bath.  Experience sunrise on the Winter Solstice, a truly magical experience!

Stonehenge Guided Tours

The Winter Solstice, which takes place on 21st December in the Northern Hemisphere, is celebrated in various forms all over the world. In astronomical terms, this is the shortest day of the year, when the sun is at its lowest in the sky. After the solstice, the days begin to get longer again, and it is for this reason that it was celebrated as the beginning of a new year by pagan cultures.

I celebrated the winter solstice at Newgrange, a Neolithic passage tomb in Co. Meath, Ireland. This monument is an Newgrangeastounding feat of engineering: dating from around 3,200 B.C. (that’s older than the Pyramids!) it is aligned exactly with the rising of the midwinter sun. Above the entrance to the tomb there is an opening called the roof-box. On 21st December, the light of the rising sun passes through the roof-box and travels up the narrow passage, illuminating the inner chamber.

Entry to the chamber on the morning of the solstice is decided by a lottery. Alas, I was not one of the lucky few chosen. Indeed, further misfortune was in store as, after having dragged myself out of bed at 6am and trekked across narrow country lanes, the weather was cloudy and the sun barely visible.

But the unlikelihood of a clear sunrise (this is Ireland, after all) did not deter the hundreds of people who turned out to welcome the new year. We were an eclectic bunch, ranging from the mildly curious to the deeply spiritual.

Dedicated believers, dressed in long cloaks with wreaths of leaves and twigs on their heads, led the welcoming of the sun. They banged drums and chanted, softly at first, the volume rising in a crescendo as the sky got gradually lighter.

Another group were gathered in a circle taking part in a guided meditation as part of a two-day retreat. As the drum-banging unofficial leaders of the celebration shepherded bemused bystanders into an enormous circle, the meditation group moved into the centre and stood facing out. Eventually they moved out to join the larger circle as the chanting reached its height, and the revellers greeted the sun (still hidden behind a cloud) with whoops and cries of ‘Happy Solstice!’

It would be difficult to find someone less spiritual than myself, and I’ll admit to finding most of the celebrations frankly a bit odd. Yet there was something undeniably refreshing about standing in that field at dawn, waiting to mark the most natural sign of the new year. It was definitely more enjoyable than the repetitive and ultimately disappointing festivities of the 31st.

Similar celebrations take place at Stonehenge, Britain’s most famous prehistoric monument, which is also aligned with the rising and setting of the sun. Huge crowds gather there annually for exuberant solstice festivities.

There is a lot of wisdom to be found in prehistoric pagan cultures. Not only have they given us some of the most awe-inspiring architectural accomplishments in the world, but they have also left us a legacy of spiritualism which has survived the advance of scientific understandings of the world.

If you come to visit Newgrange or Stonehenge just for the views and the guided tours, you might end up leaving with a new and perhaps more optimistic perspective on the coming year. Even if the sun fails to make an appearance.
By Naoise Murphy
Photograph: Naoise Murphy

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Tour: Click here

Stonehenge Guided Tours