Winter Solstice Guide

The Winter Solstice, also known as the shortest day of the year, takes place between December 20th and December 23rd. For thousands of years, civilisations and cultures would mark the winter solstice with feasts and celebrations. This time of the year also marks the beginning of the astronomical winter, where the Earth’s north pole tilts farthest away from the Sun’s light. This is reversed in the astronomical summer in March when the Earth tilts furthest towards the Sun’s light.  

The passing of the winter solstice and creating a measurement of the seasons was monumentally important to the everyday lives of the farmers and their families. During the long winter months and cold wet weather, crops wouldn’t grow and herds would become too expensive to feed. This led some to believe the winter solstice feasts where families would bring the last of their fruitful crops and bounties of meat products. 

One theory for the existence of Stonehenge, according to English Heritage, is that Neolithic people constructed Stonehenge as a monument aligned to the movements of the Sun. By noting the position of the Sun behind specific stones, people were able to recognise the changing seasons throughout the year. 

Traditionally, people from all over the world would gather at Stonehenge to celebrate the winter solstice. These people would include neo-Druids, neo-Pagans, tourists and anyone who appreciates and wishes to partake in the celebrations. In previous years, people would gather at Stonehenge and watch the sunrise over the stones, celebrating the arrival of the sun and the promise of days getting longer. 

Only a select chosen of groups are allowed within the stones at the discretion of English Heritage before the site is open to the public. This is a pre-arranged agreement between English Heritage and relevant tour groups and is not open to members of the public. 

Winter Solstice observations at Stonehenge will take place between December 20th and December 21st 2020. However, due to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis and the health and safety of visitors and staff, English Heritage has moved the event online. This means that spectators from around the world can watch the sunset and sunrise from the comfort of their home for absolutely free. All you’ll need is a Facebook account.

For more information and to receive updates about the upcoming winter solstice celebrations, visit the English Heritage Winter Solstice 2020 Live From Stonehenge – FREE! Event page. This year the sunset will be at 16:01 GMT on Sunday 20th December 2020. Sunrise is at 08:09 GMT on Monday 21st December 2020. English Heritage promises to cover the event live for 45 minutes before and after these times. 

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