Friday, 21 December 2018

Hurray - summer’s on the way!

Things can only get better. Today (21 December) is the shortest day of the year – the winter solstice* – so tomorrow we can start the countdown to summer.

Such beliefs were taken very seriously in years gone by. The threat of starvation in a harsh winter was very real, so the turning of the year towards seasons where food would be more abundant was significant.

Throughout much of recorded history and – as far we can tell – for thousands of years before that, the passing of the year’s shortest day was marked with feasting and celebration. As it is today. It seems quite probable that the early Christians ‘hijacked’ ancient pagan midwinter festivals when choosing a date for Christmas.

Scandinavian and Germanic pagans – the Anglo-Saxons of ancient England – lit fires and may have burned Yule logs as a symbolic means of welcoming back the light. Cattle and other animals were slaughtered around midwinter, followed by feasting on what was the last fresh meat for several months. The Romans celebrated the midwinter festival as “Saturnalia”, named after the god Saturn.

The ancient Iranian festival of Yalda is also celebrated at the winter solstice. In pre-Islamic times, it heralded the birth of Mithra, the ancient sun god, and his triumph over darkness. Zoroastrian tradition says that evil spirits wander the Earth and the forces of the destructive spirit Ahriman are strongest on this long night. Beliefs about the presence of evil on the longest night are also contained in Celtic and Germanic folklore.

The modern Druidic celebration Alban Arthan – Welsh for "Light of Winter" – marks the death of the ‘old Sun’ and birth of the ‘new Sun’.

And Stonehenge (which is far more ancient than the Druids) is aligned to sunset on the winter solstice, demonstrating its importance to the neolithic peoples who built it. The primary axis of the monument is oriented to the setting sun – although we don’t know why. Its purpose is still a subject of debate. But its importance on the winter solstice continues as thousands of hippies, pagans and other enthusiasts gather there every year to celebrate the occasion.

What we do know is that Stonehenge was built in several phases over a period of around 1,500 years.

We can promise that if you reserve a new Larkfleet home on the winter solstice (or indeed, at any time) it will be built rather more quickly than that. And for the next few days, through to the end of the year, you can reserve a new home for just £99 and (on selected plots) win a seasonal gift as well.

*Solstice derives from the Latin word sol, which means "sun", and the past participle stem of sistere, meaning "to make stand”. It reflects the fact that the sun’s position in the sky relative to the horizon at noon, which increases and decreases throughout the year, appears to pause in the days surrounding the solstice. The date of the winter solstice varies - it can be anywhere between 20 December 20 and 23 December 23. However, 21 and 22 December are the most common dates. The next time the solstice occurs on 23 December will not be until 2303!