In Ireland, the place to be on winter solstice morning is an old Megalithic Passage Tomb called Newgrange. It was built about 5,000 years ago and reconstructed in the 1960's. There's a passage and a chamber in the tomb that are illuminated at sunrise by the winter solstice sunlight. The sunlight passes through an opening over the tomb entrance and lights up the chamber. It lasts for 17 minutes and only happens on 2 or 3 days each year. It only happens on a clear day, so some years the chamber and passage aren't lit up at all. This year the weather was good, which was just as well, as they had the first ever winter solstice webcast from inside the tomb. The passage and chamber are very narrow, so only a small number of people can fit inside. So they decided to do the webcast so lots of people could watch. The webcast didn't work on the first day though, as lot more people wanted to watch than expected, so the system just shut itself down. But it was up and running alright on the second day, Saturday.
I didn't manage to catch the live webcast, but I took a look at an archive of it on Saturday. The whole show lasts about an hour. It's got the history of the place and things like that at the beginning, but I was mainly interested in seeing the part where the sunlight comes through the passage, so I skipped on a bit. It was nice to see. Right at the end an Australian professor guy who was inside the chamber comes on and is asked what he felt was so cool about being inside the chamber to see the sunshine coming through. He said it was the fact that people in the 20th century can experience more or less the exact same thing that those ancient people did 5,000 odd years ago.
I thought his answer was spot on. It reminded me of Zen Buddhism in a funny way. In Buddhism we do a sitting meditation called zazen. Most Zen Buddhists practice zazen everyday. It's the same sitting practice that the first Buddha, Gautama, practiced in India 2,500 years ago - long after the tomb at Newgrange was built. And kind of like what the Aussie Professor said about being inside Newgrange for the solstice, the thing about zazen is that when you do it, you can experience the same thing that Gautama and the early Buddhists experienced all those years ago. Which is pretty cool I think.