Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, and marks the turning of the sun back toward longer days, warmth, and summer. It grows in importance depending on how far north you live, and the severity of your winter. Here in Northern New Hampshire, the Sun doesn’t rise until after 7AM, and it sets before 4:30. Days are cold and short. People living 5000 years ago, in the Neolithic Age, and especially in Northwestern Europe, looked for the sign of hope that the sun had turned around. They marked the place on the horizon where the sun rose on winter solstice with stones, stone circles, and other monuments. The most famous of these are Stonehenge in England, and the great mound of Newgrange in Ireland. Newgrange contains a passage that is oriented to the Winter Solstice sunrise. The sun actually shines through a “roof box” that is over the entrance to the mound, and all the way down the passage to a stone with a triple spiral carved on it. Because the passage is so long, it is possible to determine the moment of the solstice itself with surprising accuracy. The sunlight, while reaching the farthest down the passage on the shortest day, will reach different places each year. It could be observed within a few years, that the sun reaches farthest down the passage every four years. This indicates that the year is 365 and one quarter days long. The people who built these monuments thousands of years ago were fully as intelligent as we are, rather than “primitive savages” which is how indigenous people have been seen by European colonizers. In fact, seeing how much more sustainably they lived on the planet might make us wonder if we are less intelligent.

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