Winter Solstice celebrations in the U.K.

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TWH –  Pagans in the UK may be wondering, as midwinter approaches, whether they will be able to attend any of the country’s many customary Winter Solstice rituals and events. Despite the UK being the first country in the world to roll out a COVID vaccine, the vaccination programme is in strict order of need, with NHS workers and the very elderly being first in line.

Thus many of the UK’s pagans will have to wait their turn until the spring of 2021, but meanwhile, of course, the year itself is also turning.

Glastonbury Tor [Photo Credit: Stefano Ciotti]

As with so many events in 2020, a great many winter events in the pagan world have gone online, including the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids’ Winter Assembly, usually held in Glastonbury, but now to be streamlined and streamed as a Winter Solstice Ceremony on the evening of Saturday 19th December at 7.00 p.m.

OBOD is not the only organisation to stream its celebrations. Newgrange in Ireland will also be live-streaming its winter solstice ceremony. The Office of Public Works has allowed the site at Brú na Bóinne and the visitor centre to be opened, but access into the monument itself is not allowed (social distancing would be impossible in the restricted space). Newgrange is definitely ahead of the curve since streaming footage of the Winter Solstice at this ancient site was initiated all the way back in 2007. A decade later, in 2017, the sunrise shaft of light was streamed via Facebook. So they have had plenty of practice for a Covid-ridden world!

The Chalice Well Gardens in Glastonbury, a popular destination for pagans at this time of year, are still open and likely to remain so, but have suspended actual rituals for the time being. The gardens are open from 10 – 4, 7 days a week, but are taking card payments only.

Glastonbury itself is offering a Winter Solstice streamed event on the evening of December 20th from 3:00 pm – 9:00 pm. Details below:

Glastonbury Virtual Winter Solstice

Rituals at Stonehenge are also off for the moment, but Stonehenge Tours are offering access to the stones this year, via their Avebury Winter Solstice Tour. This includes a sunset tour of Stonehenge. At £99/129 this is not your cheapest option: however, these tours are designed for people staying in either London or Bath who do not have their own transport, and they include pick-up, along with the option to meet at the henge itself.

In addition, the sunrise at Stonehenge will also be live-streamed free on English Heritage social media channels.

There are a number of smaller events online, such as a talk by Jordana Belaiche, a ‘writer, director and dramaturg based in London. Her work centres on class and gender, she has a love of folklore, witchcraft, and the occult and is well versed in all things uncanny.’

Her website says that ‘in this talk we shall be exploring winter solstice traditions and touching upon the universal connectivity of light in the darkest months, from Yule, Chanukah, Christmas, Krampusnacht, Twelfth Night and New Years Eve, our fascination with our greatest source of light and life is intimately connected with folktale, myth and mystery that aims to understand what it is to be human in the midst of darkness.’ Tickets are still available.

Coronavirus alert levels [Source: UK NHS

If you are resident in the UK or visiting over the midwinter season, you will obviously need to check travel restrictions in your own locality and that of your destination: people are being encouraged not to travel, particularly if they are in Tier 3 – the most tightly regulated of the regions with the highest infection rates. For overseas visitors, you need to be aware that the different regions of the UK – England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales – have different COVID policies in place, relating to travel, dining and access to public facilities and events – and these policies are changing as the parameters of the pandemic change. At the time of writing, for example, it is possible that London may be placed back into Tier 3 by mid-month. Keep an eye on the news, therefore, and make sure that you are up to date.