Today is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. With modern electric lights and heated homes, this day usually passes without much notice. But, thousands of years ago, this tipping point, after which the sun begins to linger longer each day, was an important time for celebration. We can get a glimpse at the ancient infatuation with the calendar's briefest day by looking at artifacts and monuments from the annual solstice festivities.
Newgrange, Ireland is one of the world's most famous locations for observing the Winter Solstice. Inside the 5000-year-old earth-covered mound is a long passageway into an ancient temple. On the morning of the annual Winter Solstice, light shines through a roof-box down the passage and into the the buried chamber, flooding light over the room for seventeen minutes.
In Egypt, the Karnak Temple is an important Winter Solstice site. At dawn, the sun shines through the eastern door to illuminate the sanctuary. As the sun rises, it appears to emerge from the temple into the sky.
Several of the Spanish Missions in California were also built to align with the Winter Solstice sun. This morning at San Juan Bautista, the solstice sunrise flooded the altar of the 200-year-old church.