Not only is Winter Solstice celebrated in the U.S., but other countries have their own traditions to honor the shortest day of the year. It is not only recognized in Central and Northern America, but also in Northern Africa, Europe, and Asia.
The summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere is actually the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere because they are on opposite sides of the equator.
During the winter crest, the earth receives the least amount of daylight; therefore it is considered the shortest day of the year. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, this day is on Dec. 21 or 22. Whereas the summer crest is the day that has the most daylight and celebrated as the longest day of the year. The Summer Solstice occurs yearly on June 20 or 21.
This age-old celestial occurrence has been recognized and celebrated in many different ways. These time-honored traditions have had some motivation from the Hanukkah and Christmas holidays. Here are seven cultures that celebrate the solstice as a traditional holiday.
- The Hopi Indians of Northern Arizona has the Soyal Solstice Celebration. They believe this lights their way to longer days through gift-giving, purification, and dancing. At the beginning of the day the natives invite the protective spirits from the mountains with ceremonies, using prayer sticks specially made for the occasion.
- In Iran, the people celebrate with Yalda, a Persian festival that dates back to ancient times, and signifies the last of the Persian month of Azar. The celebration marks the triumph of light over darkness and the birth of the Sun God Mithra. The festivities are for everyone, young and old. Families come out with fruits and nuts, and stay awake through the night to greet the morning sun.
- Scandinavia’s festival of lights is one of the most famous celebrations and coincides with the winter crest. It is presently the commemoration of the Christian martyr St. Lucia, but it has similar traditions. For instance; lighting fires to ward off spirits, and in honor of St. Lucia, young women dress up in white gowns with sashes and wear crowns made of candles.
- China’s Dong Zhi festival is a big celebration for the coming of winter. Families come together to celebrate all that has happened to them throughout the past year. The Chinese calendar suggests that the solstice lands on the Dec. 22. It traditionally marks the end of the harvest festival, with the workers returning home to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
- Peru’s Inti Raymi, the celebration of the Sun God, is celebrated in June, which is their winter. The members of the South American-Indian tribe called the Quechua originally celebrated with animal sacrifices, sometimes the sacrifices of children, and had large feasts. The Spanish Inquisition had ended the Inca’s annual festivities. However, it was revived by poking fun at the sacrifices and is still celebrated today.
- Saturnalia is the ancient Roman celebration of the end of the seed planting. It is the most similar to Christmas and is celebrated with gift giving, games, and feasts that last several days.
- In the Southern Hemisphere, Antarctica celebrates the midwinter, by exchanging homemade gifts, enjoying specialty foods prepared for the holiday, and watching movies. The celebration began as a way to thank the scientists who stay in the Antarctica throughout the long, harsh winter doing research.
The Winter Solstice is the celebration of the shortest day of the year and is similar to that of the Christian holiday honoring the birth of their savior, Jesus, also referred to as the light of the world. People all around the world partake in the conquest of light over the darkness. In America, the winter crest occurs on Dec. 21, which is only four days before the traditional celebration of Christmas.
By Katherine Miller
Edited by Cathy Milne
Encyclopedia Britannica: 7 Solstice celebrations from around the world
National Geographic: Solstice: a cause for celebration from the ancient time
timeanddate.com: Winter Solstice- Shortest Day of the Year
Top and Feature Image Courtesy of Charlene M Simmons’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License