What is Winter Solstice?
The winter solstice is the longest night of the year, typically December 21 or 22 in the Northern Hemisphere or June 20 or 21 in the Southern Hemisphere. This is the transition from a building length of nighttime to a decline in dark hours as it moves away from the solstice, often leading to celebrations that are dedicated to the return of the sun. This time of year is also a transitionary period from planting and farming to dormancy, which leads itself to celebration and ritual, as well. In countries and cities all over the world, the winter solstice is celebrated with parties, rituals, traditions and gatherings.
Traditions Around the World
The Roman festival of Saturnalia is a celebration that is closest to the Anglo-Saxon Christmas celebration. It signals the end of the planting season. Festival parties and gatherings last several days and involve a shift in social status just for the few days of celebration. Work is stopped and slaves are treated as equal during this time.
In China, Dong Zhi is celebrated. This is the celebration that indicates the arrival of winter, where families and friends celebrate the year that has passed and the end of the harvesting season. This celebration may also harken to the Chinese concept of yin and yang. This concept represents the balance of dark and light, or day and night.
The Stonehenge gathering is a part of the solstice tradition in England. It is believed that throughout history there have been gatherings at Stonehenge due to its connection to astronomy and how light hits the stones throughout the cycle of a day. Visitors gather at Stonehenge the morning following the solstice, celebrating the coming of the sun and the days growing longer.
In Vancouver, Canada, the Vancouver Secret Lantern Society hosts the Solstice lantern festival. Participants in the festival get to meet and create their lantern, participate in a town march, and then culminate their experience with the fire lighting ceremony. The festival also involves food, drinks, music and performances.
Celebrating Winter Solstice in the United States
Celebrating the solstice in the US is a more personal experience but there are places and communities that still carry on traditions. In northern Arizona, the Hopi people perform the Hopi Soyal Ceremony. Although this is closed to spectators, they do host social dances through December for those who wish to participate. In Seattle, you can celebrate the Feast of the Winter Solstice which lasts several days and involves food, dance, and ceremony. New York citizens and visitors can attend church services on the longest night of the year, which aim to provide hope for those feeling despair or loneliness.
No matter how you celebrate, it is fun to carry on tradition and to explore new ceremonies and festivities.