Christmas tends to gobble up the all season’s greetings at this time of year, but every December small groups of pagans gather at stone circles across Europe to celebrate its seasonal forebear – the Winter Solstice.

This year it falls on December 21 – the shortest day in the calendar, after which light begins slowly to return to our late afternoons. So, be you pagan, druid, or just intrigued by very large rocks, here’s a list of Europe’s most intriguing stone circles to help you celebrate the solstice in style…

1. Stonehenge, Wiltshire
Quick show of hands – who saw this coming? In case you’ve been living under one of its 13-foot high rocks for the past five millennia, Stonehenge is arguably the finest structure of its kind anywhere in the world.

A stalwart of screensavers and archaeology degrees alike, the site’s original purpose is still a mystery, with theories ranging from oversized sun dial (likely), to alien landing pad (less likely).

Stonehenge’s fame is such that there is even a blog, Clonehenge, charting the monument’s many replicas. These include Phonehenge, made out of phone boxes, Fridgehenge, made out of refrigerators, and Carhenge, made out of… Well, you can guess.

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2. Avebury, Wiltshire
We can only guess how proud the Wiltshire Celts would be, because our next pick is just a few miles down the road from Stonehenge.

Avebury is much larger and more complex than its vaunted cousin, though younger and not as visually impressive. The stones are complemented by processional avenues and man-made mounds, and while Stonehenge can only be admired from afar, visitors at Avebury can get up close and personal with the monoliths.

Both sites still welcome thousands of revellers each year to celebrate the winter solstice (or Yule, as some call it), with a traditional ceremony performed by modern day pagan druids. This is our last entry from Wiltshire, we promise.

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3. Anundshög, Sweden
Across the North Sea (and a good two millennia later), dark age Scandinavians were embracing a different style of stone circle. These ‘stone ships’ as they are known, were used as burial mounds by pagans across Scandinavia and northern Germany.

Anundshög features a double stone ship 60+ metres in length, more than enough to sate your every stone ship need. The central runestone reads "Folkvid raised all these stones… Vred carved the runes," – perhaps one of the earliest examples of copyright.

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4. Drombeg Stone Circle, Ireland
It may not be the largest of Europe’s stone circles – fit only for the cosiest of pagan ceremonies – but what Drombeg lacks in size it makes up for with sweeping, panoramic views of verdant Irish countryside.

The 17 pillars adorn a picturesque hillside in County Cork, and are aligned southwest, perfectly framing the Winter solstice’s setting sun. It’s as satisfying a stony spectacle as you’ll find anywhere on the Emerald Isle.

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5. The Carnac stones, France
The Carnac stones in Brittany, stand alone on this list for several reasons. They showcase continental designs like dolmens and menhirs, boast Christian mythologies as well as pagan, and include comfortably 10 times more slabs of rock than could possibly be required.

With more than 3,000 units in irregular grids rather than circles, legend has it that the rocks are Roman legionaries turned to stone by Merlin, or pagan warriors petrified by the divine wrath of one of the earliest Popes. In actuality, most of them predate Christianity by several millennia.

There’s a faint whiff of ‘quantity over quality’ surrounding Carnac, and the slapdash arrangements preclude a sense of otherworldly power. But it’s varied, exceptionally old, and far too large to be overcrowded – ie. well worth a look.

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6. Ring of Brodgar, Orkney
Even by the standards of millennia-old pagan monuments, the Ring of Brodgar is remarkably mysterious. A 104m wide circle of jagged, weather-beaten rocks perched on the remote Scottish archipelago of Orkney, the site has only been partially excavated and has never been dated to a high degree of accuracy.

Surrounded by sea, rock and shrubland, the Ring is unmatched for desolate beauty. Just make sure you dress for the occasion: On a windy day, the only shelter on this brutally exposed site is the stones themselves.

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