It seems that for millennia mankind has commemorated the winter solstice. It’s a time of rebirth as the sun conquers the darkness of winter and the days grow longer. For most of us Christmas is our winter tradition, but I thought I’d share some other traditions and places with you that have significance at this time of year.
Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland is a prehistoric passage tomb estimated to be between four and five thousand years old. At sunrise on the winter solstice the sun shines through the roof box at the entrance and illuminates the passage and chamber for approximately seventeen minutes. We can only guess at the significance of this but Newgrange is an amazing structure and I can’t believe these ancient people would go to the trouble of building it to such exacting astronomical specifications if the winter solstice wasn’t significant to them.
This is an aerial view of Newgrange and below is a photo of the sun shining through the roof box on the winter solstice.
The romans held a mid-winter festival named Saturnalia for the God Saturn. They decorated their houses in greenery, lit candles, and gave each other presents. It was also a time when the normal order of things was turned upside down. Men dressed as women, and masters dressed as servants.
The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah is held for eight nights and days. It occurs between the end of November and the end of December according to the Hebrew calendar. Families might exchange small gifts, and a candle is lit each night of Hanukkah. It is a time of prayer and remembrance.
It seems that yule or yuletide was a tradition of the Germanic and Nordic countries. Vikings brought the pagan mid-winter festival to England and was later absorbed into Christianity. It was a lively celebration held in honor of the rising sun and the end of darkening days. It is believed they celebrated for twelve days, hence the twelve days of Christmas. They lit bonfires, decorated evergreen trees to appease the tree spirits, and burnt a yule log.
Sadeh is an ancient Iranian mid-winter custom. Traditionally a fire was kept burning for three days with the evenings spent feasting and giving food donations to those less fortunate.
Some of these traditions have been absorbed into our Christmas celebration. This seems practical when you consider that the early church often took over pagan festivities and made them Christian holidays. There is no way to tell the exact day Christ was born, and so it seems fitting to celebrate his birth on a holiday that was already about giving, rebirth, and hope.
I won’t be writing my blog again until the New Year and so whatever your holiday traditions I hope you have a wonderful, safe and warm mid-winter celebration.
After a tough week of sick children, snowstorms, and temperatures that nosedived to -40C, I couldn’t face writing about another historical figure who might have lead a fascinating life but inevitably met a gruesome end at the hands of an even more gruesome character. And so, I searched my tiny brain cell (Yes, after this week
I only have one brain cell left) for a suitable topic and came up with the Loch Ness Monster or Nessie as she’s affectionately called.
I’ve known about the legend of the Loch Ness Monster all my life but was still surprised when I did a little research and discovered what a controversial subject this is. It seems to attract people who would use the idea of Nessie to defraud unsuspecting enthusiasts making it almost impossible to separate the serious explorer from the shyster.
This photo known as the Surgeon’s Photograph was proven to be a fake.
The only real facts I could uncover were from National Geographic, the rest are, unfortunately, considered unsubstantiated sightings. But just because they can’t be proved doesn’t mean that there’s nothing there and I suppose it is this question that captures our collective imaginations.
Loch Ness, itself, is 788 feet deep and about 23 miles long, with water that’s so murky it’s hard to see your hand in front of your face. It lies directly over the Great Glen Fault that stretches diagonally along the length of Scotland, from Inverness to Fort William and some believe “sightings” are actually disturbances on the water
surface caused by fault activity.
For a lot of people Nessie is mind-blowingly real and here are a few points that prove it.
As someone who enjoys history the last fact is the one that captured my attention. It means that nearly fifteen hundred years before the age of tourism, promotion and hype Nessie was already a legend. It is this unexplainable fact that, for me, makes the Loch
Ness Monster such an intriguing phenomenon.
What about you? Is there some unexplained incident, fact or legend that captures your imagination?