We are about to welcome the New Year hoping for the best. This last month of the year has many celebrations other than Christmas. The shortest day and longest night of the year inspire captivating celebrations, both old and new, in anticipation of the sun’s return. In 2020 in the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice is December 21. Here are the amazing winter solstice traditions around the world.
Winter Solstice Traditions
There are many occasions and events other than Christmas and New Year to celebrate in winters or in December. Here are the fascinating solstice traditions around the world.
St. Lucia Day, Scandinavia
In Scandinavia, St. Lucia Day on December 13 (the solstice by the old calendar) indicates the beginning of the Christmas season with a parade of young ladies in white robes, red sashes, and crowns of candles on their heads, lighting the way through the darkness of winter. Honoring St. Lucy, this carnival included pagan winter solstice celebrations marked by bonfires.
Dong Zhi, China
This thousands-of-years-old celebration on December 21, 22, or 23 is marked with family gatherings and a great meal, including rice balls, called tang yuan. Thought to celebrate the completion of the harvest season, the festival also has roots in the Chinese theory of yin and yang: After the solstice, the excess of darkness in winter will start to be balanced with the light of the sun.
Stonehenge gathering, England
Archaeological analysis implies winter solstice festivals happened at Stonehenge – and modern revelers have taken up the ritual, gathering at dawn the day after the longest night to observe the enchanting occurrence of the sun rising through the stones.
Shab-e Yalda, Iran
This ancient Persian festival, like many winter solstice holidays, marks the end of shorter days and the dominance of light over darkness. Meaning “birth,” Yalda is marked by family gatherings, candles (originally, fires lit all night), poetry readings, and a meal to get through the longest night of the year. Nuts and fruits, including watermelon and pomegranates, are ritually eaten – legend has it that eating the fruits of summer will protect you from sickness in winter.
The winter solstice in Japan, called Toji, has a few fascinating practices connected with it. Traditionally, a winter squash called kabocha is eaten, one of only a few crops that would have been available. A hot bath with yuzu citrus fruits is deemed to revive body and spirit, ward off sickness, as well as relieve dry winter skin.
Santo Tomas Festival, Guatemala
Although the Catholic Church now celebrates the festival of St. Thomas on July 3, in Chichicastenango (Chichi), Guatemala, the festival is still celebrated for a week leading up to the winter solstice of December 21. Why? Hopefully, because it’s an amalgam of the Catholic tradition with local Mayan customs that may have been timed to the solstice.
Burning the Clocks, Brighton, England
Fire is required to brighten the dark days of winter, has traditionally been part of winter solstice festivals. The modern-day Burning of Clocks festival in the seaside town of Brighton got that inspiration from its annual solstice parade, bonfire, and fire show. People wearing clothes depicting clocks and the passage of time process with torches made of wood and paper to the beach, where the lanterns are burned in a tremendous bonfire, signifying the promises, hopes, and worries that will be passed into the flares.