WILTSHIRE, England – Hundreds of revelers clad in colorful apparel and eccentric costumes gathered on Saturday at the United Kingdom’s prehistoric site of Stonehenge in an annual ritual welcoming the first sunrise following the winter solstice.
A man in a yellow duck outfit joined a bearded fellow dressed up as a Celtic druid, someone wearing a pretty realistic – and quite unnerving – mask of a white unicorn and a person completely covered in multi-colored ribbons in dance as the effects of the Earth’s axial tilt resulted in the advent of the midwinter sun marking an end to the Northern Hemisphere’s longest night of the year.
Other nature-worshiping neo-druids, bearded New Age merrymakers and dozens of women draped in red-hued robes were seen chanting bygone Celtic hymns within the confines of the emblematic stone circle.
Some wassailers could also be seen embracing the large megaliths, 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 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.