22/12/2015Winter Solstice celebrated at Stonehenge
The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year and the first day of the winter season. This year around five thousand people gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the winter solstice.
Around five thousand people gathered at Stonehenge this morning to celebrate the winter solstice. Braving wet and windy weather, visitors marked the arrival of the sun with pagan rituals and celebrations around the monument.
Susie Milbank, one of the visitors attending the celebrations, said: "This is my second winter solstice, and it is fabulous. The atmosphere here is absolutely incredible, and everyone here is so relaxed, peaceful, and happy. It is all very well-humoured".
Kate Davies, General Manager of Stonehenge, said: “We’d like to wish everyone who attended a safe trip home and are looking forward to welcoming visitors over the festive season and in the new year."
Stonehenge was erected in about 2500 BC. One of the most important features of Stonehenge is its alignment with the midwinter sunset and midsummer sunrise. The midwinter sun sets between the two upright stones of the great trilithon.
The ceremonial approach to Stonehenge along the Avenue was from the north-east, which suggests that the focus of interest was to the south-west and the setting sun at midwinter.
Analysis of pig bones at nearby Durrington Walls suggests that feasting was happening here, particularly at midwinter.
Why 22 December?
Many people think that the Winter Solstice always falls on 21 December. But because of a mismatch between the calendar year and the solar year, the celebration of the winter solstice at Stonehenge is not fixed to a specific calendar date.
The solstice is celebrated at the sunrise closest to the time when the sun is stationary before beginning its transit to the north or south, which means this year celebrations were held at sunrise on the 22 December.