Wondrous Views of Winter Solstice Sunset on Greenbelt Walk
Take in the sunset with wondrous views on the shortest day of the year with a “Winter Solstice” walk to the top of the hill at the John J. Donovan/Sagamore Hill Reservation in Hamilton on Saturday, December 21 from 3:00 to 4:30 pm.
This year, the winter solstice, also called the hibernal solstice, occurs on December 21, when the sun will rise after 7 a.m. and set shortly after 4 p.m. In terms of daylight, it is 6 hours, 12 minutes shorter than the summer solstice in June. Because it marks the end of days with minimum daylight and signals that a spring awakening is just a few months away, it is also, for some, a favorite day of the year.
Our free walk marking the winter solstice is part of a centuries-old tradition that predates major religions, where the ancients celebrated the reduced sunlight by knowing warmer days were ahead.
While religious celebrations are now often the centerpiece of December, celebrations around the winter solstice date back centuries earlier. In fact, some traditions now associated with Christmas began as observances of this annual astronomical phenomenon.
Pagans called the winter solstice “Yule,” a day for feasting and exchanging gifts.
Today, the Yule log, marking the rebirth of the sun, remains a tradition and a time to contemplate the year ahead, followed by singing “Deck the Halls,” a Yuletide carol.
And even the red and green colors of Christmas trace their roots to Celtic traditions. Ancient Celtic peoples believed green holly with its red berries was meant to keep Earth beautiful during the dead of winter.
Today, thousands still journey to Stonehenge in England each year, where the stone structures are perfectly aligned with the setting sun.
In Ireland, a lottery controls visits to Newgrange, a burial mound that is 5,200 years old. Built by stone age farmers, it contains a 63-foot passage that leads into a chamber aligned with the sun as it rises on the winter solstice, according to its website.
It is older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. The lucky few (the event reportedly receives more than 30,000 applicants a year) can witness the winter solstice sunrise flooding the chamber with light and illuminating the prehistoric art within.
Although the winter solstice itself lasts only the moment when the sun in the sky is at its southernmost point, people think of it as the day on which it occurs. And while the date is called the beginning of winter, meteorologists actually place December 1 as the day when seasonally, winter has begun.
Greenbelt is grateful to several professional and staff photographers whose work is featured prominently within our website.
Thank you Jerry Monkman / ecophotography.com, Lynne Holton, Kindra Clineff, Adrian Scholes and John Raleigh.