Great Britain

Thousands celebrate Winter Solstice at Stonehenge as crowds hug the stones on shortest day of the year

COLOURFUL crowds welcomed the winter solstice at Stonehenge this morning as the sun rose for the shortest day in the year.

Hundreds of people gathered at the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, hugging the stones to mark the occasion that is often associated with rebirth.

Despite the morning chill - with temperatures reaching barely 6C at 8am - the crowds flocked to the site for the morning.

Donning flower crowns, white robes and colourful vests, the gathering played music and danced to bring in the sun rise.

Many others placed their heads on the Stonehenge rock as the morning beams began to radiate over the structure.

One child was seen playing a drum for the occasion, while others played didgeridoos and held hands.

The winter solstice is most notably associated with the druids who mark the start of the solar year with a celebration of light and the rebirth of the sun.

This year's winter solstice saw the sun rise at 8.04am, with it expected to set at 3.54pm.

It means there will be sunlight for just seven hours, 49 minutes and 41 seconds.

But the celebrations were not just confined to Stonehenge, with other cultures regularly observing the shorted day of the year.

The Feast of Jul was observed in Scandinavian countries around the solstice.

The feast was seen as the last celebration before the winter began, making food scarce.

Fires would be lit to symbolise the heat and light of the returning sun and a Yule log was gathered and burnt in the hearth as a tribute to the Norse god Thor.

There are many songs and poems used to celebrate this special day.

Pagan homes are often decorated with supposedly sacred herbs and red, green and white colours.

Holly, ivy, evergreen boughs and pine cones are usually put around the home, especially in places where socialising takes place.

A sprig of mistletoe is put up above a threshold and is meant to be left there until the next Yule.

Pagans see it as a charm for good luck throughout the year but has now taken on a symbolic meaning for kissing beneath it and the opportunity for romance.

Meanwhile, it's the summer solstice if you head below the equator.

In the southern hemisphere, the seasons are flipped compared to ours.

That means December, January and February are the height of summer in countries like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

So the December 22 solstice falls in the middle of their summer, while the June solstice is their winter.

Summer solstice - Drone video shows thousands gathering at Stonehenge for longest day celebrations

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