Winter solstice at Pen Henge

There was no sun to be seen Friday afternoon, but that didn't stop people from hiking up Munson Mountain to celebrate the winter solstice at a rock formation known as Pen Henge.

The event atop the small Penticton mountain, has been held by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Okanagan Centre in recent years to mark the solstice and educate the public about what it means.

"We are marking the shortest day and longest night of the year," said society member Ryan Ransom. "The main idea is people don't realize the  amount of difference between the way the sun moves in summer and winter."

The solstice occurs twice in each circuit of the earth around the sun. The winter solstice is typically in late December, when there is the least amount of sun. Whereas the summer solstice, when the day is longest in the Northern Hemisphere, is in late June.

Many cultures dating back to ancient times celebrate the solstice at this time of year with festivals of light and gatherings.

In Penticton, celebrating the winter solstice became more serious in 2009 when the society  started the Pen Henge project, to coincide with the International Year of Astronomy. In that year members watched the sun set in different seasons to know where to place the Pen Henge stones.

There are four in all, the heelstone, which provides a viewing position, the equinox  stone in the middle, winter solstice stone in the southwest and summer solstice marker in the northwest. Two came from a rock slide in Ashnola, the others are from rock cut on the Kettle Valley Railway.

Although it was a stormy day Friday, people climbed the hill simply because winter solstice is a special day worldwide. And there were plenty of cheers when the sun set behind a thick layer of clouds at 3:27 p.m.

"It is a bit of a celebration because the sun has been going further and further south and this is as far south as it goes, Today it actually stands still which is what solstice means," said society member Chris Purton. "And because it's such a huge celebration all around the world, and a festival that goes way back in history, it makes  you feel connected to other places and times."

Members of the public who braved cold temperatures and an uphill walk for the event were happy they did so.

"I've been to Stonehenge, but I've never been to a Penticton solstice," said Margaret Brooks, a visitor from Victoria.

For Arlene Herman, who described herself as an interested observer from Penticton, the winter solstice is a very significant event.

"Whether or not we can see the sun, it connects us to the past and to the future," she said.

The event continued at the Shatford Centre with warm drinks and educational talks.

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