As well as Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year, December is full of winter celebrations that are still related to changes in the natural world such as the Winter Solstice.
Across the world, many cultures celebrate the longest night with traditions that have their own unique sounds and rituals.
In ancient Rome, the festival of Saturnalia took place around the time of the Winter Solstice. This period of several days of playing games, giving gifts and feasting was later absorbed into winter religious celebrations such as Christmas.
St Lucia Day - Scandinavia
In Scandinavia, St Lucia Day is now earlier than the solstice and is associated with the Christian saint. It marks the start of the Christmas season with a procession of young women in white robes, red sashes and wreaths of candles on their heads, lighting the way through the darkness of winter. Bonfires also mark this winter solstice celebration, along with delicious winter treats including gingersnaps, saffron flavoured buns and gloggs.
Click on the link to hear the traditional Lucia Song.
Dong Zhi - China
For thousands of years, this celebration has been marked by dinner for a large family gathering, with tang yuan (a kind of rice ball). Thought to mark the end of the harvest season, the holiday also has roots in the Chinese concept of yin and yang. After the solstice, the darkness of winter will begin to be balanced by the light of the sun.
Stonehenge Gathering - England
Nobody knows exactly why this ancient circle was built, but the stones definitely align with the movements of the sun. The solstice festivals continue today, as people gather to witness the magical occurence of the sun rising through the stones. Compiled by English Heritage, you can watch a time lapse video of the two sunrises: summer and winter.
Shab-e-Yalda - Iran
Shab-e-Yalda (Yalda Night) also known as Shab-e Chelleh is one of the most ancient Persian festivals, celebrated annually on December 21.
Shab-e celebrates the end of shorter days and the victory of light over darkness. Meaning “birth,” Yalda is marked by family gatherings, candle flames, poetry readings and a feast to get through the longest night of the year. Nuts and fruits, including watermelon and pomegranates, are traditionally eaten - legend has it that eating the fruits of Summer will protect you from illness in Winter.
Lantern Festival - Vancouver
Vancouver’s Secret Lantern Society organise city’s Solstice Lantern Festival, a place of celebration dedicated to honoring many cultural traditions, often marking the end of Chinese new year. On the night of the solstice processions march throughout the city, culminating in fire performances. A labyrinth of light, the candles invite visitors to let go of old thoughts and find new possibilities for the coming year.
These amazing spectacles happen across the globe, click on the button to watch an example.
2021 Winter Solstice where you are
This year the Winter Solstice will fall on Tuesday 21st December. The exact moment of the solstice will occur around 3.59pm in the UK. The shortest day lasts 7 hours 49 minutes and 42 seconds in London. The length of day during the winter solstice is 8 hours, 48 minutes and 38 seconds shorter than the summer solstice.
How will you mark the turning of this extraordinary year?