Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice occurs exactly when the earth’s axial tilt is farthest away from the sun at its maximum of 23° 26′. Though the Winter Solstice lasts an instant in time, the term is also colloquially used like Midwinter to refer to the day on which it occurs. For most people in the high latitudes this is commonly known as the shortest day and the sun’s daily maximum position in the sky is the lowest. The seasonal significance of the Winter Solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days. The Winter Solstice is also the shortest day or lowest sun position for people in low latitudes located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Depending on the shift of the calendar, the winter solstice occurs some time between December 21 and December 22 each year in the Northern Hemisphere, and between June 20 and June 21 in the Southern Hemisphere.

Worldwide, interpretation of the event has varied from culture to culture, but most cultures have held a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time. At the Winter Solstice, in Pagan days, the sun returns. In Navan, Ireland, this monument, built 3,000 years before the Egyptian pyramids, allows the dawn sun to hit the tiny square in the center, above the curved stone, to shine light 140 feet into the tomb – during the winter solstice. For just five days. This Pagan temple, according to legend, allows the rebirth of the souls in the tomb to be reborn when the light reaches inside the temple.

Today, over 15,000 people enter a lottery to be given the chance to see the light in the tomb during those five days. Only 25 people can be in the tomb at one time, or 125 people make the cut in the lottery to get the chance — and Ireland, this time of year, is mostly cloudy and no sun shines to be seen in the temple.

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