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Are you getting up early tomorrow to see the sunrise? Crowds will gather at England’s ancient monument Stonehenge, and around the world various cultures will be celebrating because this is the solstice, from the Latin solstitium meaning ‘the sun stands still’.

151221 sunrise

As our modern calendar (of 365 days and a leap year of 366) does not equate exactly with the solar calendar of 365.2422 days, the precise time of the solstice varies each year. This year, at 4:49am (GMT) on 22 December, the earth will reach the point where the North Pole is tilted furthest from the sun. For us northerners, this means that, in the coming days, we will begin to see an increase in the hours of daylight.

151221 sunset

For the ancient Romans, this was the festival of Saturnalia, seven days of partying and gift-giving. For the Scandinavians, it was the Feast of Yuul when the Juul (Yule) log was ceremonially brought in and one end placed in the fire as a tribute to the Norse god Thor, protector of mankind. In China, the celebration is called Dong Zhi (‘winter arrival’), a time for family get-togethers, eating glutinous-rice-ball soup and becoming one year older! Whether or not you are celebrating perhaps, just like the sun, pause, savour the stillness, reflect, then take a deep breath and move boldly into the year ahead.