Winter is here, and soon we'll witness the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Winter solstice marks the time when the earth's axis is tilted to the farthest point from the sun. Many cultures celebrate this celestial event in different ways through festivals and rituals with general merriment in the air. Here is a list of winter solstice traditions observed by various countries around the world.
St Lucia, Sweden
This is one of Sweden's most important cultural traditions, usually celebrated on 13th December. The Lucia celebrations mark St Lucy, considered the bringer of light to expel the cold darkness of the region. Boys and girls across schools are dressed in white, and one girl is chosen as Lucia, the bearer of light, who leads the procession with a wreath of light on her hair. Saffron buns are one of the most popular dishes to celebrate the festival.
Stonehenge gathering, UK
People of Stonehenge started celebrating the longest night thousands of years ago, and although those people are not alive anymore, the tradition still is. The sun is at its lowest point on the shortest day of the year, and the brilliant sunrise can be seen at the heritage site. People still gather at the site to watch the morning because the monument's stones align with the sun's movement.
The Kalasha or the Kalash Kafir are a group of people who live in the northwestern valleys of Pakistan. Balomain, a demigod according to their beliefs, is honoured through this festival. Ritual baths, animal sacrifices, dancing, chanting, and bonfires are some of the things that mark the celebrations. The Kalasha community still follow their own ancient religion of worshipping their ancestors and fire.
Newgrange tomb gathering, Ireland
Inside this tomb structure of Ireland is the central chamber, which gets bathed in a brilliant golden light. Boyne Valley in Meath was built in such a way that every year on the morning of the winter solstice, a blast of sunlight bathes the central chamber of the facade in brilliant gold, and people gather here on the morning of 22nd December to witness the sunrise and ushering in the winter.
Toji with Yuzuyu, Japan
Japan is surrounded by snowy mountains that make it unbearably cold during winter. On the day of the winter solstice, the Japanese follow the tradition of bathing with Yuzu, a citrus fruit. They make a syrup by boiling the fruit in sugared water and washing with it. According to their traditional beliefs, taking a bath with Yuzu on what they call "the day closest to death" will bless them with good health.
Yalda night in Iran
Yalda or Shab-e-Yalda is a winter festival celebrated on the night of 21st December in Iran and other countries like Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan. Family and friends gather during the coldest and longest night of the year to drink and eat fruits, particularly red fruits like pomegranate and watermelon and read poetry together. The festivities usually go on till midnight, with the red fruits symbolising the red of the first rays of the sun to guard them against the cold.