WILTSHIRE, England – Thousands of revelers clad in colorful apparel gathered on Friday at the prehistoric site of Stonehenge to witness the first sunrise following the Northern Hemisphere’s longest night of the year.
A person wearing a reasonably-realistic – albeit slightly unsettling – mask of a white unicorn danced alongside nature-worshiping neo-druids and bearded New Age merrymakers while the effects of the Earth’s axial tilt resulted in the advent of the midwinter sun.
“It was a nice and peaceful celebration despite the weather,” said Kate Davies, General Manager of Stonehenge at English Heritage, who added she was pleased to see that so many families had come to dance, sing and enjoy themselves.
Epa’s photojournalist captured a few selfie-taking couples immortalizing the special moment, as well as a masked attendee scrutinizing a crystal ball and others wearing flowing robes of red and green under white cloaks chanting bygone Celtic hymns.
Some could also be seen hugging the rocks, which are believed to have been erected nearly 5,000 years ago in a ringlike fashion by the early inhabitants of what is now the landlocked civil parish of Wiltshire, located some 130 kilometers (81 miles) to the west of London.
Stonehenge receives over one million visitors each year and remains one of the most instantly-recognizable British tourist attractions.
While the blue-stone megaliths, both menhirs and dolmens, are usually roped off to prevent the destructive effects of erosion caused by enthusiastic visitors climbing over them, English Heritage does allow temporary access during the summer and winter solstices, as well as the spring and fall equinoxes.
Archaeologists have long been perplexed by many aspects of the iconic landmark, such as its original purpose and construction methods: some modern theories posit the site was used for religious ceremonies, including healing rituals, while others believe it was used as a solar calendar due to its astronomical orientation.
The presence of human remains unearthed in recent excavations could also suggest that Stonehenge once served as an ancient burial ground or necropolis.
Since no written records exist from that period, the fertile speculation surrounding the emblematic monument is unlikely to cease anytime soon; in any case, it is sure to continue being a place of pilgrimage for many wishing to celebrate cyclical events such as the annual return to longer days.