Hundreds celebrate winter solstice marking shortest day of the year

The worst is over! Pagans celebrate winter solstice at ancient stones while others brave a chilly dip in the sea to mark the shortest day of the year

  • Hundreds woke early today to watch sunrise at prehistoric monument Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland 
  • Elsewhere, several opted to celebrate the solstice with a swim in the waters at Helen’s Bay, Northern Ireland 
  • In Somerset hundreds gathered at Glastonbury Tor to watch the sun rise over the surrounding countryside

The winter solstice arrived today marking the shortest day of the year and the 24-hour-period with the least amount of sunlight – as hundreds gathered to celebrate the annual event.     

Dozens of pagans woke early this morning to watch the sunrise at the prehistoric monument Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland.

The site – which consists of a large circular mound with a stone passageway and interior chambers – is famous for the winter solstice as it is aligned with the rising sun and its light floods the chamber on that day every year.

Elsewhere, a number of people opted to celebrate the shortest day of the year with a swim in the waters at Helen’s Bay, Northern Ireland. 

Donning their swimwear, the brave group were seen jumping around in the chilly water with some retaining their woolly hats for the adventurous gathering.

In Somerset, hundreds gathered at Glastonbury Tor to mark the winter solstice – which will this evening also see the longest night of the year. 

The Tor provides the ideal vantage point to watch the sunrise on the shortest day of the year, being much higher than the surrounding ground.   

Celebrations have not yet concluded, as Stonehenge will holds its annual winter solstice celebrations early tomorrow morning.

Although Friday, December 21 is typically recognised as the winter solstice, but the exact date can vary with the English Heritage preferring to host its celebrations according to the shortest day of the year meteorologically.

Dozens of pagans woke early this morning to watch the sunrise at the prehistoric monument Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland. The site is famous as it is aligned with the rising sun and its light floods the chamber during the winter solstice every year

Newgrange, which consists of a large circular mound with a stone passageway and interior chambers, is perhaps best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the winter solstice sun. But celebrations also take place outside the structure, with attendees gathering in a circle to watch a traditional pagan ceremony 

On mornings around the winter solstice a beam of light travels through a hole in Newgrange and lights up a 19 metre passage. As the sun rises higher, the beam widens so that the whole chamber is dramatically illuminated. Attendees are seen here hugging each other after watching the sunrise at the prehistoric monument 


Pagans led traditional celebrations at the prehistoric site in County Meath, Ireland. Newgrange is believed to have been built during the Neolithic period, around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. Paganism refers to a group of contemporary religions which draw on nature and the religions of indigenous people around the world

Gathering pagans also sang and played music at the winter solstice celebration in County Meath, Ireland. Hundreds watched on as the traditional ceremony ensued throughout the early hours of the morning


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Elsewhere, a number of people opted to celebrate the shortest day of the year with a swim in the waters at Helen’s Bay, Northern Ireland (pictured)

Donning their swimwear, the brave group were seen jumping around in the chilly water at Helen’s Bay in County Down, Northern Ireland with some retaining their woolly hats for the adventurous gathering

The winter solstice is an astronomical phenomenon which marks the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. This morning people in County Down, Northern Ireland gathered to mark the shorted day of the year with a swim (pictured)

In Somerset, hundreds gathered at Glastonbury Tor (pictured) to mark the winter solstice – which will this evening also see the longest night of the year

The Tor (pictured) provides the ideal vantage point to watch the sunrise on the shortest day of the year, being much higher than the surrounding ground

What is the winter solstice? The shortest day and longest night of the year which typically falls on December 21

The winter solstice occurs each year when the North Pole is tilted farthest away from the Sun, and we get the fewest hours of sunlight, and therefore the shortest day of the year. 

It is traditionally considered to fall on December 21, but the meteorologically accurate shortest day of the year can vary by a few days either side. 

The English Heritage for instance, celebrates the winter solstice at Stonehenge on this meteorologically accurate date which will this year fall on December 22.

The English Heritage celebrates the winter solstice at Stonehenge on the meteorologically accurate date which will this year fall on December 22. Pictured are druids, pagans and revellers gather at Stonehenge, hoping to see the sun rise in 2016

It claims that because of a mismatch between the calendar and solar year, the December solstice is not fixed to a specific date. 

This year it will occur during darkness, at 10.24pm on the 21st, and based on advice from the druid and pagan communities that it works with, the date and time chosen to mark Solstice at Stonehenge is at the first sunrise following the astronomical event. 

The winter solstice is juxtaposed by the summer solstice which typically falls on June 21 and marks the longest day and shortest night of the year.  

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