This is the shortest day of the year, celebrated around the globe with festivals, gift giving, and other traditions that have been passed down for years.
The Hopi Indians of northern Arizona are one of the many groups that celebrate the Winter Solstice, which they refer to as Soyal. Soyal includes ceremonies, crafts, dance, gift giving, and welcoming protective spirits from the mountains. This differs slightly from the Iranian tradition of Yalda, the Persian festival that celebrates the birthday of the sun god, Mithra. Families come together to feast and stay up all night until they can welcome the sun in the morning. Inti Raymi, the Incan solstice celebration in Peru, honors their Sun god as part of their tradition as well. Their solstice takes place in June instead of December but is still considered a Winter Solstice.
The Dongzhi festival celebrated in China is considered the “arrival of winter” and is similar to many holiday traditions in the United States--it’s very food- and family-oriented. Families come together to celebrate the year they have had and enjoy special foods like tang yuan and glutinous rice balls, which symbolize reunion. If there is something all cultures have in common, it’s that food brings everyone together!
Melina Rudman, Director of WELL and Community Life at Bay Path University, shares some background of ancient solstice celebrations and how the significance of solstice remains present in modern traditions:
“All creatures, including human beings, respond to the rhythms of the days and seasons. We get "spring fever" as winter wanes and spring beckons; we find ourselves craving warmth and light as the days shorten and cool in the autumn.
Winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, has been noted and celebrated by our ancestors around the globe as a vital part of the earth's seasonal changes. Ancient people knew that on this date the darkness would begin losing ground to the returning light. In Celtic traditions, the winter solstice was celebrated as Yule (EWE-elle). During the longest night, people built bonfires in fields and hearths to hold the darkness at bay and welcome the sunrise; they also brought evergreen boughs, holly, and mistletoe into their homes to "green" them at a time of year when most of the natural world was frozen and barren.
We can still find traces of the Yule celebrations in our modern celebrations of Christmas; we deck our halls, hang wreaths, decorate trees and kiss beneath the mistletoe. As the longest night draws near and the cold strengthens across our part of the world, may we notice the wisdom of nature at rest and emulate it.”
Looking to celebrate the Winter Solstice locally? Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary will be hosting their annual celebration on Thursday, December 21, 2017, at 6:30 p.m. in Easthampton, Massachusetts. The event is free and includes live music, hot cider, a bonfire, and a non-perishable food drive for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
Bay Path University wishes everyone a peaceful, festive, and warm winter solstice!