No other annual event has influenced the lives of so many people as the December solstice. For centuries, this event has been at the forefront of the lives of many people, through mythology, religion, art, and literature.
In the northern hemisphere, December solstice occurs at the start of winter and is the day with the least amount of daylight hours for the year. If you are living north of the Arctic Circle, you will not see the sun during this time of the year, but if you’re travelling south of the Antarctic you will be able to see the midnight sun at this time.
The December solstice in the north also heralds lighter days and the end of darkness and cold, which was cause enough for celebrations. In colder climates, surviving winter was not always guaranteed, so the winter solstice was heralded as a time of rebirth and renewal, and a sign that the sun would return to ensure survival.
Saturnalia, on which our modern day Christmas is modeled, was a seven day festival in Ancient Rome which began on December 17. Held in honor of Saturn, the god of harvest, it was characterized by the suspension of discipline and general peace and goodwill. Schools were closed and all wars postponed.
A 12-day celebration by the Druids during the December solstice. They believed that this was a time of rebirth of the Sun God and a return of longer days with more light.
Believed to have been built around 3000 BC, Stonehenge is one of the most popular sites of the winter solstice, even today. The monument contains primary axes which appear to have been erected to align with the rising sun of the winter solstice at one end and the summer solstice at the other end. Every year, on morning of the winter solstice, Druids, pagans, and revelers gather at Stonehenge to celebrate the rebirth of the sun for the new year.
Newgrange, which, by all accounts is much older than Stonehenge, contains a chamber within that floods with light as the sun rises on the winter solstice. As the sun rises higher during the day, a beam of light widens within the chamber so that the whole room becomes dramatically illuminated, in an event lasting for 17 minutes.
The Great Serpent Mound, USA
In Peebles, Ohio, USA, the Great Serpent Mound is believed to have been built by the Fort Ancient people between 1000 and 1550 AD. It stretches out for about a quarter mile in the form of an uncoiling snake, the head of which is aligned to the sunset during the summer solstice and the tail pointing to the sunrise on the winter solstice. More information can be found at http://ohiowins.com/great-serpent-mound/