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Winter Solstice                   

Here are Graham's thoughts:
Winter Solstice is  a well known Sabbat which has inspired the major religious and secular festival in our culture – Christmas. The Solstice usually occurs around the 21st of December and as with the Summer Solstice, the sun rises and sets in the same place on the horizon for five days. And, just as St John's Day is placed after the summer, so Christmas falls just after the Sun starts moving again.

When analysed, Christmas proves to be as strange as Easter when it comes to the amalgam of Christian belief and pre-Christian customs. As I mentioned in the Summer Solstice article, there is a myth of the Holly and Oak Kings contending, and each ruling over half the year. The whole cycle of the two brothers could be a distillation of some earlier myth of a primeval spirit of the wild woods. Winter Solstice is the peak of the Holly King's power and this is reflected in much of the traditional decorations and even hymns for this time of year. Holly is an incredibly magical tree with many myths woven around it. There are tales of giants wielding clubs made out of whole Holly trees.

Many prehistoric monuments across Britain and Ireland have very clear alignments of sunrise or sunset at certain dates of the year. Of all the eight sabbats, the Winter Solstice is the one with the most surviving prehistoric monuments, and these sites tend to be the most impressive. Despite the common association of Stonehenge and the Summer Solstice sunrise, Stonehenge is more likely to be built around the Winter Solstice sunset.

Newgrange in Ireland, which aligns to the sunrise on Winter Solstice, is an artificial hill made of layers of pebbles and earth. It covers over an acre and is around 40 feet high. It has one 60 foot long corridor leading into a chamber which is only illuminated at dawn on the five days of the solstice. It is an incredible feat of engineering carried out 5,000 years ago – 500 years before either Stonehenge or the Pyramids were built. There are other similar monuments across Ireland, Scotland and Wales.


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