The Winter Solstice

The entrace to Newgrange in County Meath in Ireland. Picture by Loretto Leary.

The entrace to Newgrange in County Meath in Ireland.

It is the day when the number of hours of darkness are the most and the number of hours of daylight are the least. With no known calendars, watches or intertubes, the ancients of our planet managed to figure out that December 21st was a day of mostly darkness. How did they do that?

From Tulum, to Newgrange, to Orkney, and Stonehenge, the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, is observed throughout the world in various ways.

For the Kalash people of Pakistan, the winter solstice is a day of purification. Water is poured over the men’s heads and the women take baths in order to purify themselves. They call this day Chawmos.

In East Asian cultures it is known as Dongzhi, where again water is used to signify positive energy and people take hot citrus baths.

Hogmanay, in Scotland also begins on the 21st of December.The Incas called it Inti Raymi, African cultures call it Junkanoo, and in Ireland, a country I might know a thing or two about, Wren Day has connections with the winter solstice also.

What amazes me about ancient cultures is the fact that thousands of miles of ocean lay between the ancient Incas, Mayans and the Neolithic people who constructed Newgrange in Ireland, and yet, despite not knowing the existence of other people in other countries, they worshipped the sun in almost the same way.

In Newgrange, the rising sun illuminates the chamber of the inner stone passage of the burial tomb. The event occurs from the 19th of December to the 24th, the longest illumination happens on the 21st.

I’ve been inside Newgrange for the illumination. Despite the fact that there were clouds in the sky, a strip of blue light crept across the floor and when it touched the back wall it began its retreat.

So whether you are in Australia, Mexico, Ireland or Iran, happy winter solstice. May the days of brightness illuminate your way.

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