When is the Winter Solstice and how is it celebrated across the world?

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When is the Winter Solstice and how is it celebrated across the world?

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Marking a moment where an astronomical shift and officially hinting at the oncoming of the colder months, the winter solstice is celebrated around the world to build on new and old traditions steeped in history and culture.

The official celebration will take place on Friday 22 December and for those who cannot attend, it will also be livestreamed on the official English Heritage YouTube channel.
The official celebration will take place on Friday 22 December and for those who cannot attend, it will also be livestreamed on the official English Heritage YouTube channel.

In 2023, the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice falls on 22 Dec, 8:57 am (IST)—which is commonly known as the longest night of the year or the shortest day of the year. For residents of the Southern Hemisphere, this event takes place in June because of the seasonal reversal in countries below the equator.

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What is the winter solstice?

Astronomically, the winter solstice is when the Earth’s axis of rotation is tilted (approximately 23.4 degrees relative to the orbit) and the farthest away from the sun. Because of the decrease in sunlight reaching the earth, it is when you can observe the shortest daytime and if you are like a heliophile like some of us—feel grateful that the days will only get longer going forward.

For millennia, countries and cultures across the world have devised their own traditions to observe the day—from taking a trip to the Stonehedge to learn about the Neolithic people to attending a winter solstice watch held at Solstice Park in Seattle.

Stonehenge, UK

For the people of Stonehenge, many of whom depended on farming and cattle raising, the prime importance of understanding the yearly cycle might have been one of the many reasons why the Neolithic people built the structure—a landmark that is aligned to the movement of the sun. Framing the midwinter sunset at the winter solstice, today, people flock to see the sun set to the southwest of the stone circle. The official celebration will take place on Friday 22 December and for those who cannot attend, it will also be livestreamed on the official English Heritage YouTube channel.

Yalda, Iran

The winter solstice is known as the Yalda Night in Iran where the darkest and longest night of the year is celebrated with an overnight family gathering. Symbolic of Iranian customs and the event, watermelons, pomegranates and nuts take centre stage with the former two representing sunrise because of their red colour. The pomegranate also serves as a symbol of fertility due to its many seeds. It is prominent during this event, which you will also find in Fesenjan, the star dish of the night—a medieval stew from the Caspian region of the country.

Dongzhi Festival, Asia

Observed in and around China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam, the Dongzhi Festival is a one-day festivity that is annually celebrated between December 21 and 23. The word Dongzhi in Chinese means “winter’s extreme” or “winter’s arrival,” the festival is rooted in the ancient philosophy of yin and yang. During winter solstice, the negative energy is considered to peak and then the positive energy continues to grow as the spring season approaches when daylight time is extended. The highlight of the festival is tangyuan—small, sticky balls of glutinous rice flour that is a culinary tradition that originated in Southern China but is now gleefully enjoyed in Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and overseas cultures.

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