5 Unique Celebrations of the Winter Solstice Around the World
Since ancient times, people from across the world have celebrated the winter solstice, hoping their rituals and festivals would bring the sun back.
The solstice, which means “sun stands still,” marks the shortest day of the year.
“You have to imagine people in ancient times not knowing what causes this,” said Anthony Aveni, a professor of astronomy and anthropology and native american studies at Colgate University. “And so they would wonder when the sun goes farther south, will it ever come back?”
Today, most people know the days will soon get longer again, but those traditions continue.
From the Lohri Festival in India to the Solstice Chase Bike Ride, these are a few of the most elaborate way the winter solstice is celebrated around the world.
Lohri Festival in India
Traditionally, the festival of Lohri in northern India has been celebrated on the longest night of the year. Now it’s celebrated on the last day of the month when the winter solstice takes place.
The celebration involves big bonfires and lots of food.
Writer Lavina Dsouza said children and teens typically visit neighbors and collect food, just like trick-or-treating, and then share the wealth at sunset when the bonfire is lit.
“People throw a little of the Lohri into the bonfire as well and sing and dance till it dies out,” she said. “The ritual is performed to thank the Sun God and ask for his blessings. Lohri also signifies it is time to harvest the 'Rabi' crops, such as sugarcane and radish.”
The Dongzhi Festival in China
“Dongzhi” means “the arrival of winter” and marks the transition between days getting shorter and days getting longer.
It’s celebrated across China and East Asia with family gatherings that usually involve tangyuan, or rice balls, and dumplings.
“The festival is traditionally a time for family to get together and eat festive food, specifically dumplings, and try traditional recipes focusing on nourishing the body,” according to travel advisors from the company Audley Travel.
Solstice Chase Bike Ride
Every year in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, hundreds are participants line up for the Solstice Chase bike race.
Riders cover 42 kilometers (26 miles) or 21 kilometers (13 miles) on snow tires. In fact, organizers say it’s the second largest snow bike race in the United States.
After the race, bikers and residents celebrate with a community festival.
Burning the Clocks in Brighton
Every year on December 21, the city of Brighton, England celebrates with a ritual called Burning the Clocks.
There’s a fireworks show and parade with people dressed to represent each time of year.
Then people in the city make paper lanterns from bamboo and willow paper, and can go to instructional workshops if they need help fashioning their crafts.
At the end of the festival, everyone lights the lanterns on fire in a bonfire by the sea.
St. Lucia’s Day
This traditional celebration in Sweden falls near the winter solstice.
It begins with a parade of children in white full-length gowns, holding candles and singing songs together. One child from each village or town is chosen to be Lucia, and a national Lucia is chosen as well.
The winner wears a crown made out of a wreath and decorated with candles.
“Staunchly opposed to privilege, Sweden has always sought to avoid ranking people, which is why beauty contests and ‘homecoming queen’ events are rare,” says a description on Sweden’s website. “The Lucia celebration, however, has been an exception. Every year, local newspaper subscribers are invited to vote for one or other of the candidates.”