The winter solstice has always been a "magic" time for mankind, regardless of the religious belief system subscribed to. The nights had become noticeably longer for weeks, the days murkier, the sun styling low on the horizon. You can just imagine cavemen muttering to each other "If this carries on, we'll have to invent fire to see anything at all!"
But then everything changes ... the sun climbs higher at noon, the days get longer again. The winter solstice marks the lowest point on the daylight scale in the year. And after a few centuries of observation became a regular cause for celebration. As it still is today ... the date for Christmas might well be adapted from ancient sun-worship.
At Newgrange in Ireland a "miracle" happens, weather permitting, every year during the winter solstice - as the sun rises, it illuminates the inner chamber of the tumulus.
But this is not the only magical moment during the winter solstice:
- At Maeshowe, Orkney's awesome Neolithic chambered burial mound, the setting mid-winter sun lights an inner chamber for about three weeks before and after the winter solstice. You can watch it happen via the live Maeshowe webcams.
- Brighton in England celebrates the lengthening days with its own local twist on a typical Northern fire festival - The Burning of the Clocks. The event includes a themed parade with as many as 1,000 participants, followed by the burning of paper and willow lanterns on the beach and a fireworks parade. Thanks to Ferne for those two hints!
- Terri, our Guide to Scandinavia Travel, recommends a natural seasonal light-show ... the Northern Lights, which are best observed on the darkest days of the year.
- If all this does not fit into your calendar and you need planning ahead: Lois Friedland points put that the winter solstice occurs in late June in the Southern Hemisphere. In Cusco, Peru, this shortest day of the year is celebrated with parades and festivals. In nearby Machu Picchu, travelers gather at dawn to watch the sun's rays spill shine through a window in the Temple of the Sun and light up a ceremonial stone.
- Can't face all this and need pampering instead? No worries ... Susan Breslow Sardone has just the treat for you: In November 2008, the first ship in Celebrity Cruise's new Solstice class debuted... and she's a beauty.