by Stephanie H, Sprague Branch
In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice takes place on December 21 or 22nd every year. The solstice is the day with the shortest amount of daylight, and marks the point where days will continue to grow longer. People all over the world celebrate the solstices (the summer solstice takes place June 21 or 22nd) as well as the equinoxes, the days where sunlight is about even with darkness that mark Spring and Fall.
Soyal is the winter solstice celebration of the Hopi people in what is now Arizona. During Soyal, the Hopi celebrate the sun returning, and honor the Kachina, their guardian spirits. There are underground chambers called Kivas where rituals and ceremonies take place. Since these rituals are so sacred, little detail about what happens during them is given to outsiders.
Shaba e Yalda also called Yalda Night is celebrated in Iran to mark the longest night of the year. Families gather for feasts, drinks and poetry. Eating watermelon, pomegranate, garlic and a variety of other fruits and nuts are said to help protect people through the coming year.
Dongzhi is celebrated by people across East Asia including China, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. Families gather together to eat food and celebrate. Small brightly colored rice balls called tangyuan are made and eaten. In Taiwan, Tangyuan are also used as offerings to ancestors.
Saturnalia was celebrated in ancient Rome in honor of the god Saturn. The celebration lasted from December 17-23rd and included carnivals, feasting, and sacrifices at the temple of Saturn. People would give gifts and gamble, slaves were also allowed to celebrate with their masters. The Romans would also elect a King of Saturnalia. Many scholars believe that many Christmas traditions were adopted from Saturnalia.
There seems to be a common thread throughout all of these winter solstice celebrations, a focus on coming together and making time for fun. Winter is and was a difficult season for many people. This year on the solstice, take time to appreciate the people you are surrounded by. This is also a good time to get outside and notice what is happening in nature. Many birds have flown south for the winter, some animals are hibernating, but others remain active during this time. Observe your neighborhood again at the Spring Equinox, how have things changed? Do this again for Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox. You will probably be surprised to see the way nature cycles through the year. Making small observations like this help me appreciate every season, and I hope it will help you as well.
Images from Wikimedia Commons:
Tangyuan - Alpha from Melbourne, Australia, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Yalda Night - PersianDutchNetwork, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Saturnalia - Themadchopper, Antoine-François Callet, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Stonehenge - Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)., CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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