The December solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and this year it falls on 22nd December

winter-sols

In ancient Pagan traditions, the winter solstice was a time to honor the cycles of life and death and celebrate the sun’s rebirth as the days would slowly begin to lengthen in the months leading into spring. Many modern practitioners of Pagan and earth-centered spiritual traditions observe the holiday, and at Stonehenge, the celebration is particularly special.

 

There is no access to the inner circle at Stonehenge on  between the 18th and 27th winter-solstice-tourDecember inclusive because of the winter solstice. There is, however, open access on the morning of the 22nd December to watch the winter solstice sunrise which happens about 8.09am.  We are are offering our usual exclusive guided Winter Solstice tour that departs from London or Bath, pleae visit our Stonehenge Tour website for full details.

 

THE winter solstice: the shortest day and longest night of the year.

So what is so important about this date? What about it possesses people to dress in unicorn masks and visit Stonehenge?

Here, we take a look at just what the winter solstice is – and why a day with so little sunlight is worth celebrating.

What is the Winter Solstice?

The winter solstice is a phenomenon that marks the shortest day of the year. Often referred to as the official beginning of winter, the solstice generally only occurs for a moment.

The true solstice occurs when the Earth is tilted the furthest away from the Sun on its axis. Despite it only lasting a moment, the full day is recognised.

When is the Winter Solstice?

The winter solstice generally falls between December 20th and 23rd.  This means, for the UK, the sun will rise at 8.04am and set at 3.54pm – meaning we will have just 7 hours and 49 minutes of daylight.In 2017, it will fall on Wednesday, December 22nd.

A winter solstice also occurs in the Southern Hemisphere, with the day occurring in late June.

How is it celebrated?

The day is one that is celebrated by pagans and druids, with rituals of rebirth performed throughout history on the day.

One of the biggest celebrations in the UK occurs at Stonehenge with crowds gathering to watch the sunrise on the morning of the winter solstice.

The crowds of devotees, often dressed for the occasion, regularly gather at the historic site.  It is just one of the many pagan festivals, which include midwinter, midsummer and inbolc – the day that traditionally marks the start of spring.

The importance placed on the day comes from how people were previously so ecoenomically dependent on the seasons with straveation common in the first months of winter.

Will the days start to get longer?

After the solstice, the days will start to get longer.  The process is gradual, with minutes added everyday.

Join us on a Stonehenge guided tour from London or Bath and join the Pagan celebrations at sunrise on the Winter Solstice. This is a popular tour and shoule be booked in advance:
Stonehenge Winter Solstice Tour

The Stonehenge Experts
Stonehenge Guided Tours
http://www.StonehengeTours.com

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From Pagan festivals to fire ceremonies and medieval football matches, all of these winter celebrations are keeping our ancient traditions alive – and are much more stimulating than the Christmas sales …

winter-solstice-wizard

Stonehenge winter solstice, Wiltshire: December 22nd 2014

Solstice celebrations – marking the shortest day and longest night of the year – happen right across the UK. But one of the focal points for the festivities will always be the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge. Each year, thousands descend on this field in Wiltshire to see the sun rise above the stones. Expect to see the druid and pagan communities out in full force, dressed in magnificent costumes and singing incantations within the circle. This year, the solstice takes place on 22 December, rather than the 21st, and you’ll be able to arrive at the monument as soon as the light begins to break.
• english-heritage.org.uk

Burning the Clocks, Brighton

Burning the Clocks procession to celebrate the winter solstice makes its way through Brighton.

21 December
A contemporary winter solstice celebration (and the most modern event on this list), the Burning the Clocks festival was conceived in Brighton in 1994 as a community event to be enjoyed, regardless of faith, and it takes place on the beach. Around 20,000 spectators turn up to witness the procession of light, which consists of a parade of luminous willow lanterns that are passed into a blazing bonfire. The event concludes with a huge fire show and firework display that lights up the seafront.
Parade starts 6.30pm, samesky.co.uk

Kirkwall Ba game, Orkney

The Ba KIRKWALL ORKNEY

25 December and 1 January
The Ba is an annual custom in which hundreds of men and boys take to the streets to embark on a medieval football match. It has been described as more like a “civil war” than a game. Windows are boarded up in preparation for the self-refereed melee in Kirkwall, capital of the Orkneys. The two teams – the Uppies and the Doonies – battle for control of the leather “ba’”, attempting to wrestle it towards the areas of the town designated as the goals. Ribs have been broken in the scrum, but the event has a festival spirit that unites the entire town.
Starts at the Mercat Cross on Kirk Green, free, discover-orkney.co.uk/the-ba

Grantchester barrel rolling, Cambridgeshire

Boxing Day Grantchester Barrel Rolling

26 December
One of many bizarre British Boxing day traditions, the Grantchester barrel rolling race is, well, pretty much as you’d imagine. Four local teams roll large wooden barrels up and down the street in a relay race, which is followed by the “County Championship” race between teams from Grantchester and nearby villages of Barton, Coton and Newnham. Founded in the 1960s, the race fell out of favour until it was revived in 2003 and, in keeping with most trivial pursuits, concludes with a booze-up at the local Rupert Brooke pub.
Coton Road, Grantchester, free, grantchester.org.uk

Keynsham Mummers play, Somerset

26 December
A bit like pantomimes, mummers plays are comic folk performances that have been performed around Europe since the Middle Ages. The tradition is kept alive by the likes of the Bristol Morris Men, who have performed the play every Boxing Day in the town of Keynsham since the idea was revived in the late 1970s (though records suggest the play originated in the town in the early 19th century). Expect melodrama, sword fighting and colourful costumes.
11am at St John’s Church, 11.30am at Keynsham Library, midday at the New Inn, bristolmorrismen.co.uk

Fishermen vs Fireman football match, North Yorkshire

Scarborough football

26 December
Nothing brings out the competitive spirit like a game against the local rivals. In Scarborough, the Boxing Day football match is a chance for local fishermen and firemen to thrash it out – in fancy dress – on the beach. One of the town’s oldest surviving customs, there’s evidence of the match taking place on the South Bay beach back in 1893. It started as a way of raising money for the families of four fishermen lost at sea, and now supports elderly or unwell people in the community.
South Bay Beach, 10am, free, discoveryorkshirecoast.com

Stonehaven Fireballs, Aberdeenshire

The Fireball Ceremony at Hogmanay, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire

Photograph: David Robertson / Alamy/Alamy

31 December

As this Stonehaven Fireball Association states proudly on its website, come rain, snow or storm “we have never cancelled”. This hardy 150-year-old fire ceremony is held on Hogmanay in Stonehaven, and is watched by thousands. When the Town House bell strikes midnight, the ceremony begins, with firedancers, known as “swingers”, making their way down the street, led by drummers and the Stonehaven Pipe Band and finishing with a firework display on the harbour.
Free, stonehavenfireballs.co.uk

Allendale Tar Barl festival, Northumberland

Allendale Tar Barrel festival on December 31

Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

31 December
Setting whisky barrels full of tar alight is certainly one way to warm up on a winter’s evening. In existence since the dark ages, the Allendale Tar Barl festival is another fiery event, consisting of a Pagan ceremony led by “guisers” – an hereditary team of 45 barrel carriers in traditional costumes. Whisky barrels filled with flaming tar are paraded across the town, before being thrown on to a huge bonfire.
Free, visitnorthumberland.com

The Haxey Hood, Lincolnshire

Smoking the Fool … a fire is lit under the Fool who makes a welcome speech before officially starting the Haxey Hood.

Smoking the Fool … a fire is lit under the Fool who makes a welcome speech before officially starting the Haxey Hood. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/the Guardian

6 January
And on the 12th day of Christmas … a man with a feathery hat tried to smuggle a leather tube into his local pub. The event, in the parish of Haxey, north Lincolnshire, is not unlike the mass rugby/football games that take place in various parts of the country where there are far more participants than rules – a large, chaotic match in which locals try to manoeuvre the leather “hood” to one of four pubs. The game, which can go on well into the evening, ends once the hood arrives at a pub, where it remains until the following year.
Free, wheewall.com/hood

Whittlesea Straw Bear festival, Cambridgeshire

The Whittlesea Straw Bear festival

9-11 January
If anything is going to help lift the spirits above the dreary grind of January, it’s a man dressed head to toe in straw, dancing to folk music. This Cambridgeshire festival includes barn dances and concerts, as well as a procession through the streets on Saturday with teams of Morris dancers and, of course, the belle of the ball: the straw bear. Come Sunday, however, the bear costume will go up in smoke during the “bear burning” ceremony, a symbolic act to leave the way open for the new harvest … and a new bear.
Concert and barn dance £10, daytime events free, strawbear.org.uk

Article source (The Guardian) by Will Coldwell
http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/dec/16/10-best-winter-festivals-events-christmas-new-year?CMP=share_btn_tw

Solstice Events U.K are offering their usual Stonehenge Winter Solstice Tour / transport from London

Stonehenge Guided Tours
http://www.StonehengeTours.com