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Winter Solstice 2017: The traditions and meanings behind the UK's shortest day of the year; The nights have been drawing in but the days will soon be getting longer again!

Byline: Dan Kay

The nights have been drawing in for months, and the winter solstice is finally upon us, which means today is the shortest day of the year.

This is the moment shines at its most southerly point, which is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.

It has been celebrated ritually for thousands of years by pagans, with has spawned many of the traditions which we now associate withChristmas- including the Christmas tree itself.

The world might look pretty grim now, but remember: as soon as the solstice has passed, the days will start getting longer again and you can start looking forward to Spring.

Here's your guide to the darkest day of the year - and a few reasons to be cheerful about it (as first published byMirror Online):

What is the winter solstice?

The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year and the official beginning of winter.

The solstice itself is the moment the sun is shining farthest to the south, directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.

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When is the Winter Solstice?

The date of the winter solstice is different every year, falling between December 20th and 23rd.

This year, the solstice is on Thursday, December 21. The sun will rise in the UK at 08:03 GMT and set at 15:53 GMT, giving just 7 hours and 50 minutes of daylight.

Traditions and rituals

The winter solstice is a major pagan festival, with rituals of rebirth having been celebrated for thousands of years.

Every year revellers gather at Stonehenge to watch the sunrise on the shortest day.

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Many of the traditions we now think of as being part of Christmas - including Yule logs, mistletoe and Christmas trees - have their roots in the pagan celebrations of winter solstice.

Wait, the Christmas tree was originally a winter solstice tree?

Sort of. The Druids - the priests of the ancient Celts - used evergreen trees , holly and mistletoe as symbols of everlasting life during winter solstice rituals.

Cutting them down and putting them in their homes would have been too destructive to nature.

But when Saint Boniface, also known as Winfrith of Crediton, found a group of pagans worshipping an oak tree in 8th Century Germany, he cut the tree down.

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Some say he then planted a fir tree on the spot after the pagans converted - others that a fir tree sprang up on the spot.

Myth has it the converted pagans in the region returned the following year to decorate the fir tree.

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Will the days start getting longer again?

Yes. After the solstice, the days will gradually get longer until the summer solstice on Thursday, 21 June 2018.

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Credit: Getty

Winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year

Credit: PA

Chief Druid Arthur Pendragon leads the Winter Solstice service at Stonehenge

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Publication:Crosby Herald (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 21, 2017
Words:513
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