A Ne­olithic Christ­mas

Derbyshire Life - - Craftsmen -

It is just be­fore the full moon sets on the win­ter sol­stice – the De­cem­ber day which is the short­est of the year – some 2,000 years be­fore the birth of Christ. Ne­olithic peo­ple or maybe priests gather around the en­closed Cove at the cen­tre of the stone cir­cle we now know as Ar­bor Low, high on Mid­dle­ton Com­mon, south of Monyash.

What are they wait­ing for? The full moon hang­ing in the sky above the White Peak plateau slowly dips to­wards Black Edge, ten miles away on the hori­zon, as seen through the north-west en­trance of the raised henge mon­u­ment which sur­rounds and con­ceals the stone cir­cle.

This is the mag­i­cal mo­ment when those un­known tribes­peo­ple knew that the year had fi­nally turned. And turn­ing around and look­ing over the lime­stone mono­liths near the south-eastern en­trance to the henge, the mid­win­ter sun would soon be ris­ing, bring­ing with it the prom­ise of warmth and life still to come as the eter­nal pass­ing of the sea­sons comes full cir­cle.

Of course, this is a purely hy­po­thet­i­cal sce­nario, but ar­chae­ol­o­gists are pretty sure that the geom­e­try and en­trances of Ar­bor Low – some­times known as the Stone­henge of the North – were aligned with the sun and moon at the mid­win­ter and mid­sum­mer sol­stices.

Put sim­ply, the win­ter sol­stice is cal­cu­lated as the mo­ment when the tilt of the earth’s axis takes it the fur­thest from the sun, and it oc­curs in most years on or around 21st De­cem­ber.

By a happy co­in­ci­dence, that ties in closely with the Chris­tian cel­e­bra­tion of the birth of

Christ and Christ­mas, with all its mod­ern com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion. But if the cal­cu­la­tions at Ar­bor Low and other stones cir­cles are any­thing to go by, we’ve been cel­e­brat­ing the win­ter sol­stice for far longer than all that su­per­fi­cial tin­sel and glit­ter which seem to form such an im­por­tant part of the event to­day.

For ex­am­ple, the bring­ing in of the Yule Log, which tra­di­tion­ally cel­e­brates the turn­ing of the year, orig­i­nated in pa­gan Scan­di­navia. And our mod­ern cus­tom of dec­o­rat­ing the house with ev­er­greens like holly, ivy and mistle­toe and the Christ­mas tree, prob­a­bly be­gan life as a cel­e­bra­tion of sol­stice ev­er­greens, mys­te­ri­ously re­main­ing green in the depths of win­ter.

The an­cient tra­di­tional carol, ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, may de­rive from a pre-chris­tian age when the Lord and Lady of the Green­wood were hon­oured by the hang­ing of ever­green gar­lands from the ridge poles of houses.

‘The geom­e­try and en­trances at Ar­bor Low were aligned with the sun and moon at the mid­win­ter and mid­sum­mer sol­stices’

And even that per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of Christ­mas – Fa­ther Christ­mas, Santa Claus or Saint Ni­cholas – may have had his ori­gins in those shamans who were the first priests and ma­gi­cians of the hu­man race. It’s likely that they were the peo­ple who over­saw the build­ing of those Ne­olithic stone cir­cles and henges like Ar­bor Low, en­sur­ing that they aligned with the as­tro­nom­i­cal move­ments of the heav­enly bod­ies.

No one will ever know the truth be­hind these the­o­ries.

But I know when I step in­side the stone cir­cle of Ar­bor Low or any other of our pre­his­toric mon­u­ments, I feel the same sense of sanc­tity and rev­er­ence as I do when I step in­side an an­cient church or cathe­dral.

Con­tact www.owpg.org.uk/ mem­ber-pro­files/roly­smith [email protected]­con­nect.com

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