Winter Solstice Around the World

Paper lanterns like these help people celebrate the winter solstice at the Vancouver Lantern Festival.

The winter solstice is shortest day, and longest night of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, it happens on December 21 this year. All around the world, people have special festivals to celebrate the solstice.  

A group of artists known as the Secret Lantern Society started the Vancouver Lantern Festival to celebrate the winter solstice in 1994. In this festival, artists and performers play music and create the Labyrinth of Light. The Labyrinth of Light is a large area with a huge number of lanterns laid out on the floor. The lanterns represent the sun returning and gradually warming the world and paving the way for Spring. Local religious groups of many different faiths use the Labyrinth of Light to pray. The Lantern Festival brings diverse cultures together to celebrate the winter solstice. Over 200,000 people take part in the festivities! 

In Brighton, England, an art group known as Same Sky organized a winter solstice festival since 1993. They wanted an alternative to the commercialization of many December holidays. They created a unique celebration called Burning the Clocks. People dress up in costumes, make lanterns, light fireworks, and light a huge bonfire! The theme of the costumes changes every year. They always incorporate a clock. It represents the passing of time. 

Other winter solstice festivals have a much longer history. In Iran, people celebrate the winter solstice with the festival called Yalda. This festival dates all the way back to Ancient Persia. Yalda is known as the birthday of the god of the sun, Mithra. It represents light’s victory over darkness. Families celebrate Yalda with various nuts and fruits. They stay awake all night to see the sunrise. 

In China, people celebrate a festival called Dong Zhi. Translated as “arrival of winter,” families get together and enjoy festive foods. One of the foods they enjoy is called tang yuan. Tang yuan are brightly colored balls of rice that are cooked in a sweet broth. Dong Zhi is thought to be an old harvest festival, a day where workers would take time off to celebrate and be with their families. Today, Dong Zhi isn’t an official holiday in China. Families still get together and celebrate. 

There are many more ways that the solstice is celebrated. Many communities dedicate the day to celebrating the year and the return of longer daylight. Whatever form it takes, the solstice is a good day to get with friends and family and celebrate! 

What Do You Think? How do you plan on celebrating the winter solstice? 

Photo Credit: Guillermo Vazquez/EyeEm/Getty Images