Penticton’s winter solstice celebration may not be as colourful as the Scandinavian Santa Lucia Festival, but both share a bond of celebrating the return of light. Photo by Claudia Gründer

Penticton’s stone circle standing the test of time

Celebrate the winter solstice at Penhenge

Eight years ago, a group gathered on top of Munson Mountain to watch the sun set on the winter solstice.

Observation of the solstice isn’t particularly unique, but what made this event special was that it was the first to occur at Penhenge, a group of small standing stones installed on top of the mountain in 2010 by a group of enthusiasts and astronomers to mark the solstices and equinoxes.

Watching the sun set on the summer solstice. Sally Kilburg photo

Radio astronomer Chris Purton spearheaded the building of Penhenge, which may still be unique, when it comes to community built facilities, at least in modern-day B.C. In the years since Penhenge was built, Purton said he hasn’t heard of any other communities building their own version.

Purton said he’s “tickled pink” that celebrations continue to be held at Penhenge to mark solstices and equinoxes.

“What took me by surprise was how much people were interested in the winter solstice. I thought it would be the summer solstice,” said Purton, adding that he’s since learned more about the extent of winter solstice celebrations, which is celebrated all over the northern climates in many cultures.

Related:Astronomers celebrate the season

The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year when the sun sets at its southernmost point.

“We feel it. It makes a big difference, the length of the day in summer and the length of the day in the winter,” said Sally Kilburg. “The farther north you go on the planet, the more important it becomes.”

Kilburg, Penticton vice-president for the Royal Astronomical Society – Okanagan Centre, is organizing this year’s celebration on top of Munson Mountain on Dec. 21, which begins at 2:45 p.m., just ahead of when the sun sets behind the mountains at 3:27 p.m.

“When we have a sunny day, the shadow from the southernmost stone will cast a shadow all the way to the heel stone,” said Kilburg.

Besides the heel stone there are three other stones making up Penhenge; also marking the summer solstice, the fall and spring equinoxes.

It’s the particular moment, she explains, where it was once believed that the sun stood still before it started moving in the opposite direction.

“It is from the ancients keeping track of the motion of the sun and seeing it would set in a certain place and then all of a sudden it starts moving in another direction,” said Kilburg.

The sunset can sometimes be hard to see because of snow or clouds, but the celebration goes on regardless.

“When it happens, it can be quite magical to see the stones all line up,” said Kilburg. “We’ll have a celebration having to do with the return of light and the solstice and fact that everything is spinning the way it ought to.”

Related:Group to observe the winter solstice at Pen Henge

After sunset, the celebration moves to Township 7 Winery, at the foot of Munson Mountain, where there will be warm drinks, companionship and maybe even a few talks.

“We’ll have a couple of speakers talking about different solstice -type celebrations around the northern hemisphere,” said Kilburg.

One of those will be about the Scandinavian celebration of Santa Lucia, with her wreath of lights adorning her head.

“The big news is the days are going to get longer again. The winter solstice is the celebration of the return of light. I am sure the ancients felt the same way that we feel here in Canada,” said Kilburg.


Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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