The triumph of light over darkness is something to celebrate, especially when it means that the days will grow longer. Humankind has been marking the shortest day for millennia and here are our top picks of the best places experience the Winter Solstice:
People flock to Chichen Itza at the winter solstice anyway, but 2012 is not any old year. It is the end of the Mayan Calendar and this special occasion is expected to draw huge crowds to the ancient site near Cancun. If music festivals are your thing, go in for Synthesis 2012 and party like it’s 1999!
This Stone Age site in Ireland was marking the Winter Solstice several centuries before Stonehenge and a millenium before the Pyramids at Giza were constructed. Light enters this passage tomb at dawn on the Solstice and illuminates the normally dark interior. Very few people ever get the chance to witness this. Those who wish to visit Newgrange during the Solstice put their names on a waiting list and a lucky few are chosen by lottery each year.
Winter Solstice marks the longest night of the year, and it could be argued that Antarctica experiences the longest night of all, when the sun disappears altogether in the austral winter. Of course, being in the southern hemisphere, December 21st is the Summer Solstice in Antarctica and thus the longest day of the year when the sun never sets. A trip to Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime experience in itself, but being there for the solstice is an even rarer experience. Celebrate with a polar bear dip!
This site at Avebury, in Wiltshire is England’s most famous ancient site. The Summer and Winter Solstices are the two most active days at Stonehenge, when it’s possible to get up close to the standing stones which have become increasingly protected in recent years. Fewer people brave the cold for the Winter Solstice, but the sunrise celebration still attracts around 1,000 people.
It’s easy to forget that Belize was once home to the Mayan civilization as well as places such as Mexico and Peru that easily spring to mind. This year’s solstice and the end of the Mayan Calendar are a big deal in Belize, with numerous events planned in various locales.
Giza, home to the Pyramids and the Sphinx, attracts people interested in mystical subjects year round, but it’s incredibly popular at Solstice time. Visitors to Egypt come to meditate and soak up the special sort of energy they claim is present at this ancient site.
Fiesta Santo Tomas incorporates Christian traditions and ancient Incan rituals honouring the sun god. The most spectacular of these is the death-defying Danza de los Voladores practiced in many places in Latin America. Five brave souls climb a ridiculously tall pole, tether their bodies to it with a rope, then fling themselves earthward.