Thursday, 22 December 2011

Happy Winter Solstice!

sunrise at Stonehenge
Here in the northern hemisphere today is the winter solstice... midwinter, the shortest day of the year... and it’s time to celebrate! For this is the darkest hour. From now until midsummer, the days will get longer and the nights shorter, which means you’ll soon have more sunshine (well, daylight anyway) to frolic with your loved ones, which can only be good thing.

The solstice actually happens at a set time that varies slightly according to your human calendar. This year it happened at 5.30am this morning, but I had to poke my author with my horn to get her out of bed to post this for me... and you know how long it takes authors to wake up and smell the coffee, let alone write anything half decent… but she's up now, so here are a few interesting solstice-y things the unicorn has unearthed.

Newgrange, Ireland

If you’re in Ireland, you might be celebrating the solstice at Newgrange, which is an ancient celtic tomb that my author has been inside (she had to duck, and there wasn’t any room for me because they said my horn would be dangerous to the other tourists!) It’s a large burial mound with spirals engraved into the large stone at the entrance, and its narrow passage and chamber are illuminated by the winter sunrise for seventeen minutes each year between 19th and 23rd December. Quite spooky.

In the Druidic tradition, the winter solstice festival is called Alban Arthan, which translates as "Light of Winter" or "Light of Arthur"… when the Holly King (representing winter) dies at the hands of his son and successor the Oak King (representing the summer to come). Also at this time of year the Druids would gather by the oldest oak tree in the forest to cut mistletoe with a golden sickle, catching it in a white sheet. The early Christian church banned the use of mistletoe because of its association with the Druids, but then stole the solstice celebration and many of its traditions for Christ's Mass or Christmas, when we traditionally hang mistletoe in the hope of getting a kiss!

There are many other festivals celebrated around the world at this time of year, but the unicorn thinks it doesn’t matter what you call your midwinter celebration. At this darkest time of the year, it's good to be with your friends and family to keep the lights burning brightly until the sun returns. So I am trotting off now to be with my author, and will be back in the new year...



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