And how would you spend the longest night of the year?
Winter solstice is the astronomical phenomenon that has been celebrated across the world through centuries. The best places to witness it are Stonehedge in the UK and Newgrange in Ireland. Both archaeological sites are carefully aligned on a sight-line that points to the winter solstice sunrise – Newgrange, and to the sunset – Stonehenge.
In the late 1960s, professor Michael J. O’Kelly was working on the restoration of the megalithic passage tomb at Newgrange. He was the first to discover that the rays of the rising sun, shining through an opening called a roof-box, would illuminate the 19-metre passage and the whole chamber. He first witnessed this amazing event with his daughter, Helen. “It was extraordinary, I remember seeing it in around 1969 – all alone, just me and him. No cameras, no lights, nothing. The whole place was just illuminated. I’ll never forget it,” she said. “He was the first person in about 5,000 years to see it.”
The cities across Ireland also outdo themselves during the winter solstice to make this event unforgettable for the Irish citizens and visitors alike.
This year, on December 21st, Dublin city invites you to its annual Winter Solstice Festival. The celebration will start at 5.30 pm with an indoor festival in the DIT Grangegorman Campus and then proceed with a parade.
There will be a lot of fun activities during the first part of the celebration – face painting and craft making workshops, storytelling sessions and poetry readings. Find out more about the mysterious Celtic world, its legends and rituals of the olden days. Don’t just observe, be a part of it! You can learn Irish step, make headdresses out of ivy and holly and help making costumes. All this will get you in a good festive mood before you move on with the Parade.
To be fully prepared for the procession, dress warmly but more importantly, brightly – red and yellow colours are preferred, and also bring drums and lanterns. Before joining the laughing and vibrant crowd outside, be sure to take a “withie” with you. It’s an old Irish word for a prayer or a wish-twig, you can make it yourself earlier in the evening during the Winter Solstice workshops, and then throw it in the ceremonial fire at the end of the parade.
The parade will begin near the Grangegorman Bring Centre at 7.10 pm, so people start to assemble around 7 pm. The Sun Queen and Snow Princesses will lead the colourful jeering crowd through Dublin streets, inviting bystanders to join the festive march. Hardly anyone can resist the rhythmic heartbeat drumming and the contagious cheer of the paraders. Fire-bearers, flanked by hornblowers, will carry the open flame through the city and then around the Smithfield Square. Time to toss the withies in the fire! Enjoy the last hours of the celebration around the bonfire, watching the smiling faces illuminated by the flame that will chase away the cold from the square, leaving you warm and fuzzy on this Winter Solstice Festival.
Light it up, Dublin!
Indoor festival: 5.30-7pm, DIT Grangegorman Campus
Outdoor Festival and Parade Assembly: 7 pm, An Croí – DIT Grangegorman Campus, 7 Grangegorman Lower, Arran Quay
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