The first day of winter for the year 2022 is December 22. It is called the winter solstice or the hibernal solstice. It occurs when one of the earth’s poles is tilted to the farthest point from the sun. It is also the shortest day of the year, which automatically makes the night of the winter solstice the longest.
Each December, the hibernal solstice marks the official initiation of the Northern Hemisphere’s astronomical winter. Following the solstice, the days start getting longer as the nights get shorter for the next six months.
Celebration of the Winter Solstice in different cultures across the globe
Usually falling just a week prior to Christmas, the winter solstice is celebrated in different manners around the world.
Ancient people depended on their precise knowledge of seasonal cycles for their survival. Thus, they marked the first day of winter with ceremonies and celebrations, and symbolized it as an opportunity for renewal.
Here are some of the ways in which people around the world celebrate the solstice even today:
In Japan, the first day of winter is called Toji, and it comes with a few interesting customs. In keeping with tradition, kabocha - winter squash is eaten. It’s one of the few crops that were available in ancient times during winter.
Many people also take a hot bath with yuzu fruits because they believe it refreshes the body and spirit, warding off any illness and soothing the dry winter skin.
Stonehenge gathering, England
Nobody knows exactly why the Stonehenge circle on the Salisbury Plain was built, but it’s proven that the circle does mark the change of seasons by tracking the movements of the sun and the moon. This historical monument is also believed to be a place of spiritual inspiration.
According to archeological research, winter solstice festivals were celebrated here. So, to carry out the tradition, many people gather here at dawn after the longest night of the year to witness a magical sunrise.
In China, celebrating winter solstice is a family affair and involves a grand meal which includes a special dessert called tang yuan, a type of rice ball.
The solstice is also connected at its roots to the Chinese philosophical concept of yin and yang.
Dongji, South Korea
In South Korea, the first day of winter is also known as "Little new year." They celebrate the day by eating a traditional dish called patjuk, which is a red bean porridge. The South Koreans consider red to be a lucky color. So, the patjuk is eaten to ward off bad spirits and embrace good wishes for the next year.
They also wish for snow on this day, as they believe that cold weather on the first day of winter brings an abundant harvest.
Newgrange gathering, Ireland
The Newgrange Stone Age passage tomb in Boyne Valley, Ireland, is a 5,200-year-old prehistoric monument. On the day of the hibernal solstice, a small crack above the tomb's entrance fills with light during sunrise, gradually traveling throughout the chamber and illuminating it. This magical luminous effect lasts for 17 minutes.
Visitors gather at the temple to watch the sunrise. Locals speculate that the phenomenon announces light’s triumph over darkness and marks the birth of the new year.
Soyal, Hopi Tribe, U.S.
The Hopi tribe is a group of indigenous people from northern Arizona in the U.S. They have a religious tradition where they honor Kachina (or katsina). Kachinas are ancestral spirits that represent the natural world. Hopi people celebrate the winter solstice as part of this tradition.
The tribal chief leads the Soyal ceremony. The tribe welcomes the sun’s journey to the summer path after the longest night of the year with ritual dances. The festivities also include prayers, gifts for children, storytelling, and singing. They often make Kachina dolls and prayer sticks for the celebration.