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Cultural Traces Around the World

The Winter Solstice: A Time for Rest, Renewal, and Family

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As the Earth rotates, the North-South position of the Sun changes over the course of the year. The Winter Solstice represents the exact moment when the Sun is farthest south at an average of 23.5 degrees. This event takes place each year sometime between the 21st and 23rd of December, when the Earth completes its orbit around the Sun. It marks the end of autumn and the first day of the winter season for people living in the Northern Hemisphere. Conversely, those from the Southern Hemisphere have a Summer Solstice, or the longest stretch of daylight during this period. In fact, in parts of Antarctica, there is no night-time at all during this season!

Let’s take a look at how some of these ancient celebrations in various cultures have continued to this day. Known as one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, Stonehenge in Southern England is an arrangement of enormous rocks carefully positioned on barren land. The megalith is often mentioned in the same breath as the Winter Solstice, precisely because one can witness the phenomenon of the Sun rising through the stones. Perhaps more familiar to the Western countries is Yule, which is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world. It is primarily celebrated in the Northern and Western European cultures.

In China, the arrival of the Winter Solstice brings about the Dong Zhi festival, which translates to "Winter Arrives." Traditional Chinese beliefs hold it is an auspicious day, which means the unhappiness of the past has gone and new positive energy will emerge in the year to come. Its origins can be traced back to the Yin and Yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. In Guatemala, the Santo Tomas Festival is celebrated in a spectacular style. Every December for a full week ahead of the Winter Solstice, natives in the town of Chichicastenango transform the surrounding areas into a grand event.

These are only glimpses into a few Solstice traditions. Perhaps the most important message passed down by many cultures and religions has been to honor this time as an opportunity for introspection and energy renewal. No matter the difficulties faced by humanity, the Winter Solstice is a sacred time of the year utilized to welcome the return of the Sun, which will nurture our souls after a long and challenging year.
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