Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Winter Solstice and the old New Year

Happy New Year! 
WHAT you don't celebrate the New Year on December 21st?

5,000 years ago in Ireland, the Stone Age Farmers would celebrate the start of a new year, the beginning to the end of Winter and the prospect of a bright new season on December 21, the Winter Solstice.

Light entering the tomb.

Scientifically it is the period when the earth's axial tilt is furthest away from the sun, but in lay woman's terms it is the shortest day of the year, the longest night making way for longer days.
All over the world different cultures interpret the event differently, in Ireland we believe it was an event of huge celebration, sacrifice, prayers and more than likely some alcohol, dancing and general merriment!

The event was such a big deal that 500 years before the pyramids of Giza were constructed, Stone Age farmers had co-operated to build Newgrange Passage Tomb, in the sacred Boyne Valley in Co Meath. The magnificent ancient temple which was re-discovered in the 17th century still conceals secrets about it's exact function.
One thing we do know is that it was built exactly to capture the special Winter Solstice. Every year on December 21 at approx 9am a narrow beam of light enters the roof box, travels down the passage and fills the rear chamber with light. The extraordinary occasion lasts only 17 minutes.

Newgrange Passage Tomb
(c) fifiheavey

To imagine the thought, work and effort that went into capture this moment 5,000 years ago blows my mind. And it certainly places a huge significance around the Winter Solstice and December 21. Of course the end of a bitter winter, of almost hibernation and the prospect of longer days and more sun for a population that relied so heavily on the land for survival is epic. But I think there was more to the event than that, something spiritual, a rebirth of life.

Roof box where the sun light enters during Winter Solstice above the entrance to the tomb.

This year 31,531 people applied in the Winter Solstice lottery to be chosen to see the event at Newgrange. (No I didn't get it!)
The sun enters the tomb from December 19 -23, but only fills the entire chamber on December 21. 50 names are randomly picked, and a group of ten get to see the captured sun on each day.
What a way to start the new year before it even begins!
To apply for the 2012 lottery enter here.


  1. Oh I'd love to see the sun rise at Newgrange, *runs off to enter the 2012 lottery*.

    I really enjoyed this post.

  2. @Cornflakegirl. My fingers are crossed for you - it would be an amazing experience.

  3. yes,sunrise will be greatly celebrated this year around the globe. If you are in Ireland - this is our National event to celebrate it www.ireland2012.ie