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.
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.”
“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.
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.”