Tuesday December 20, 2022
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday December 20, 2022
Happy Winter solstice 2022 – Good riddance to a dreary past year
For most of us in the northern hemisphere, the drop in temperature over the last few weeks has become apparent; frosty mornings and cold air is the order of the day. Marking the first day of astronomical winter, the winter solstice lays claim to the shortest day of the year, but it’s also the date after which the Sun starts to make a welcome return.
The winter solstice is one of the oldest known winter celebrations. Not only does it mark the changing of the seasons, but it marks an end to the long winter nights.
Although Stonehenge is one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments, remarkably little is known about these ancient standing stones. They have, however, become synonymous with the solstices, and it’s difficult to avoid news of throngs of people flocking to the monument in mid-winter and mid-summer. But they have good reason, and have done so for millennia.
Most archaeologists believe that Stonehenge was erected as a giant astronomical calendar, as the standing stones are oriented towards the rising and setting Sun at the solstices. However, there is some debate as to whether they were originally built for a specific solstice, or both.
At the winter solstice, the Sun would have set between two uprights, however the effect is somewhat lost today as one of these stones has since fallen down. Laser analysis of these stones has revealed that they were carefully shaped using hammerstones, creating vertical sides that perfectly framed the movement of the Sun.
This year, because the precise time of the solstice occurs at 9:48pm on 21 December (i.e., after the Sun has set), the winter solstice will be celebrated at sunrise on 22 December. But, if you don’t fancy heading out into the brisk winter morning, you can livestream the event over at English Heritage. (BBC)