The Winter Solstice

The Winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year and it is celebrated in many cultures throughout the world. To the ancient Celts, the winter solstice was seen as a time for renewal, revival and hope; a time for letting go of the darkness that had gone before and looking forward to brighter days ahead.  

Today, many people make the journey to ancient sites that align with the sun at the time of the solstice. One such place is the passage tomb at Newgrange in County Meath, one of Ireland's most famous neolithic monuments.
Constructed around 3200BC, it has often featured in Celtic folklore and art. The sunrise of the winter solstice casts light through an opening above the doorway. The passage and chamber inside are bathed in light for around 17 minutes. 
Other popular locations for observing the soltice are at stone circles, such as those at Ballynoe, County Down, Drombeg in West Cork or Beaghmore here in County Tyrone.

Although today may be the shortest, darkest day of the year, the fact that the days following the winter solstice grow longer and brighter is thought to denote the triumph of light over dark. In Celtic mythology the Oak King was a symbol of light and summer and the Holly King was a symbol of darkness and winter. In an ongoing battle The Oak King would triumph at the Winter Solstice and would then be defeated by The Holly King at the Summer Solstice who would reign until the next Winter Solstice. 

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