Today, December 21st 2013, is this year’s Winter Solstice. It is the shortest day of the year andd afterwards the days will begin to lengthen again. The Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere is also the Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. A range of observances throughout history and all over the world are connected to the Winter Solstice. A unifying element of these various celebrations is the significance of light and its triumph over darkness.
Beiwe Festival (Saami, Fennoscandinavia) – The Saami, indigenous people of Finland, Norway and Sweden, worship Beiwe, the sun-goddess of fertility and sanity. On the solstice, her worshipers sacrifice white female animals, and thread the meat onto sticks, which they bend into rings and tie with bright ribbons. They also cover their doorposts with butter so Beiwe can eat it as she begins her journey through the sky to herald returning greenery.
Chawmos (Kalesh, Pakistan) – According to the traditions of the Kalesh people in Pakistan, on the Winter Solstice, a demigod returns to collect prayers and deliver them to the supreme being. The people undergo purification, followed by a grand festival.
Christmas (Christian) – Christmas is celebrated on December 25th, which was
the Roman Winter Solstice upon the establishment of the Julian Calendar.
Dongzhi Festival (East Asia) – The Extreme Winter Festival is celebrated by a variety of East Asian cultures. The origins of the festival relate to the yin and yang philosophy of harmony. After this festival, there will be days with more hours of daylight, and therefore an increase in positive energy.
Inti Raymi (Inca, Peru) – The “Festival of the Sun” was a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire in honor of the sun god Inti. Priests preformed the “tying of the sun” ceremony on a large stone column, representing a hitching post. The goal of the ceremony was to prevent the sun from escaping.
Karachun (Ancient West Slavs) – This Slavic holiday was similar to Halloween. On the darkest day, the Black God and other evil spirits were most potent. On this night, Hors, the old sun, dies, defeated by the dark powers. Western Slavs would burn fires at cemeteries to keep departed loved ones warm and organized dinners in honor of the dead so they would not suffer from hunger.
Maruaroa o Takurua (Maori, New Zealand) – This is celebrated in June, when it is the Winter Solstice in New Zealand. For the Maori people, it marks the middle of the winter season.
Midwinter (Antarctica) – At the research stations throughout Antarctica, Midwinter is celebrated in June during the Southern Hemisphere’s Winter Solstice. It marks the fact that those wintering-over have made it through half their tour of duty.
Saturnalia (Ancient Rome) – This festival of light led up to the Winter Solstice. There were gift-giving, banquets and a carnival atmosphere.
Sewy Yelda (Kurdish) – “The Night of Winter” festival was on the longest night of the year, believed by ancient tribes to be the night before a victory of light over darkness and signified the a rebirth of the sun.
Shab-e Chelleh (early Persian Empire, modern Iran) – This festival is celebrated on the eve of the first day of winter in the Persian Calendar, which always falls on the solstice. It is one of the most important holidays in modern Iran. At the end of the night, Mithra is born following the long-expected defeat of darkness by the light. Watermelons, persimmons and pomegranates are traditional symbols for the celebration, all representing the sun.
Soyal (Hopi and Zuni peoples of North America) – This Winter Solstice ceremony is held on December, 21st, the shortest day of the year. The purpose of the ritual is to ceremonially bring back the sun from its long winter slumber. It is also a time for purification, as it marks the beginning of another cycle of the Wheel of Time.
Zagmuk (Ancient Babylon) – This festival was held in observation of the sun god, Marduk’s, defeat over darkness.
Ziemassvetki (Latvia) – This festival is celebrated on December 21st in honor of the birth of Dievs, the highest god in Latvian mythology.
If you’d like to learn more about the Winter Solstice, try one of these options from the library!
The Shortest Day – Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer – Children’s Nonfiction
Special Gifts by Cynthia Rylant – A picture book featuring the solstice
The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan – A young adult novel set during the solstice
Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher – An adult novel centered around the solstice
Handknit Holidays – Knitting Year-Round for Christmas, Hanukkah and Winter Solstice by Melanie Falick – Adult nonfiction with great craft ideas
Holiday information taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice#Mean_Geimrech_.28Celtic.29