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The Winter Solstice
The winter solstice marks the day when one of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun. This event occurs twice yearly, and its opposite is the summer solstice.
The winter solstice is celebrated in East Asia as one of twenty-four Solar Terms, and is known as Dongzhi in Chinese. The Dongzhi Festival, or Winter Solstice Festival, is one of the most significant festivals celebrated in East Asia. This festival celebrates that there will be more hours of daylight after the solstice, and therefore positive energy will increase. During this festival, families gather together and make tangyuan, balls made of rice flour which are brightly colored (usually pink or green) and represent reunion. They are cooked in a soup or broth and are often served with a rice wine containing grains of rice called jiuniang.
In Germanic and Scandinavian cultures, a winter holiday called Yule (also known as Jul, Julblot, jólablót) is celebrated. An Old Norse kings’ saga called Heimskringla written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson details a Yule feast that Norwegian king Haakon the Good (c 920-961) hosted. According to the book, Haakon moved Yule from “midwinter” to align with Christmas. This led some scholars to think that Yule was originally a sun festival on the day of the winter solstice, but modern scholars have disagreed with this as “midwinter” in medieval Iceland would have been nearly a month after the solstice.
In Iranian culture, the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice is celebrated as Yalda Night or Chelleh Night, the “longest and darkest night of the year.” The night’s celebration, called “Shabe Chelleh,” is an old Iranian tradition that has been present since the ancient years. On this night, families gather together and celebrate by eating, drinking, and reciting poetry. Prominent foods during this festival include watermelons, nuts, and pomegranates.
Sol Invictus was adopted by Emperor Aurelian as the main god of the Roman Empire, and was the sun god of the late Roman Empire. A holiday honoring him was traditionally celebrated on December 25th, similar to the holidays of several other gods associated with the winter solstice in pagan traditions.
The winter solstice happens when one of Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the sun. This event happens twice a year, once for each hemisphere (Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere). The summer solstice is the opposite of the winter solstice. The winter solstice occurs during winter in each hemisphere; for the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice takes place in December, whereas for the Southern Hemisphere, the winter solstice takes place in June. The solstice itself lasts only a moment, but typically the whole day is referred to as the solstice or the “shortest day” of the year because it has the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year.
In India, the festival day of Makara Sankranti or Makaraa Sankrānti in the Hindu calendar is celebrated. The day is related to Surva, the solar deity in Hinduism, and is celebrated yearly in January. The day marks the Sun’s transition into Makara, or Capricorn, marking the end of the month containing the winter solstice and a transition to longer days.