The day of the winter solstice in earlier cultures was very important. They are still celebrated worldwide by members of many ethnic religions, tribal religions. The meaning of this event has varied in the different cultures of the world. But most of them recognize it as a period of renewal and rebirth. It involves festivals, fairs, meetings, rituals or other celebrations.
For Celtic countries, such as Ireland, the winter season begins in November, the day of Samhain. The winter ends and spring begins at the Imbolc or Candelaria around February. Most of the East Asian cultures define the seasons with solar energy. This system is at the height of the Sun over the horizon at noon.
Some midwinter festivals have taken place according to the lunar calendars. This is the night of the Hōku (the full moon closest to the winter solstice in the Hawaiian culture. In temperate climates, the festival was the last celebration before or after winter.
The followers of the Japanese Shinto celebrate with Tohji-Taisai. The ceremonies are in honor of the sun goddess Amaterasu.
In Mesopotamia, the winter solstice got celebrated with a 12 day festival of Zagmuk. The Persians and Babylonians celebrated a feast called Sacaea. The ancient Romans celebrated the days with the Saturnalia, which lasted a whole week. The Romans celebrated their god Saturn on the shortest day of the year. The lights were in the foreground. The settlements got decorated with torches and candles.
Natalis Solis Invicti, the birth of the invincible sun got personified in the god Mithra. Among the Assyrians, the birth of Adonis got celebrated, like that of Tammuz in Babylon. It also coincides with the day known among the Egyptians as the "Birth of Infant Horus".
Dong Zhi is the Chinese winter solstice festival. In China, Japan and Korea, winter is the season of yin and the summer of yang. Dong Zhi marks the change from yin to yang. It is also the time when the ancestors return and visit their families.
Dongzhi Festival is also a time for family reunion. An activity that occurs during these meetings is to eat together. In the south, people make Tangyuan or glutinous rice balls (with or without fillings). While in the north, where it is much colder, the family meal for this day is Jiaozi. In Korea, people make glutinous rice balls in a traditional porridge with red bean candy.
In the old Ukrainian customs, we also find the connection between the return of the ancestors. It got dedicated here to the god Dazhbog. The Hopi and Zuni Indians celebrate the Soyal, at which time the Kachinas and thus the new year begins. Also in the Zarathustrian religion, the winter solstice was under the name known as Yalda. Watermelons, persimmons, and pomegranates are traditional symbols of this celebration. People used to stay awake until dawn on the night of Yalda to eat, drink, listen to stories and poems. Seva Zistanê is a holiday celebrated by communities around Kurdistan in the Middle-East.
Choimus is the name of the winter solstice celebration of the Kalash tribe in Pakistan. The Kalash are the only tribe in the region that has not converted to Islam and celebrates to this day. A demigod returns to gather and offer prayers to Dezao, the supreme being. During this celebration, women and girls purify themselves by taking ritual baths. Men pour water over their heads. They should not sit until the night when the blood of the goat gets sprayed on their faces. After this purification, a great festival begins, with songs, dances, bonfires, and delicacies.
The Teutons celebrated the twelve-day midwinter festival of Yule with cultic fires. To this day, Christmas in the Scandinavian countries is also called Jule. With the Christianization, Christmas commemorating the birth of Jesus replaced the pagan customs. For some Nordic sects, the Yule records were lit in honor of Thor, the god of thunder. The party continued until the log burned, from three or even twelve days. On the same date the god Freyr, son of Odin and Frigga, was born among the Norsemen. Freyr is in whose honor bonfires were lit and mistletoe crowns distributed.
Even in the Neolithic, there may have been cults around the solstice. Archaeological evidence suggests sites such as the English Stonehenge or the Irish Newgrange. For the people, the winter solstice marked the beginning of the deprivation-rich winter. A large part of the cattle got slaughtered because it could not get fed during the winter. Beer made during the year was ready to drink at this point of the year.
Karachun was a Slavic holiday like Halloween when the evil spirits are more powerful. In honor of Hors, the Slavs danced a ritual dance in a chain called the Horo. The Slavs of the eastern Russian region worshiped the winter mother goddess, Rozhanitsa. They offered bloodless sacrifices such as honey, bread, and cheese. Embroideries of bright colors representing the goddess of winter got made. Women observe these traditions by making bright white cookies with the figure of a woman.
Koleda is a Slavic festival celebrated by the Slavic people. This event brings hope to people and fills them with friends and optimism. Svarog, the Sun regain his power over the earth and life. The old season closes, a new year and cycle of nature begin.
Even in the Stone Age, people were able to recognize and map this special day, the day of the winter solstice. Or the find from the Svetovid monument in Zbrucz. For the Slavs, the winter solstice was also dedicated to the souls of the ancestors. To warm themselves on this cold day, they set fire pits on grave mounds for them as well as small ones.
Gody, is the time for divination, magical rituals, and clairvoyance by old people. The priests (Zerce) predicted future harvest, partner, and child wish. In the case of the Slavs, sheaves bound from the last grain trees got placed in the corner of the room. They decorated with herbs, nuts, fruits, colored ribbons and kept till Spring arrive. From kernels of these grain sheaves, the new seed should begin in spring.
Another custom was, like almost all Indo-European people. A spruce, fir, or pine branch suspended from the ceiling, which was also decorated. A custom that has got preserved to this day is to put straw and hay under the tablecloth. All this were to guarantee an abundant harvest in the following year.
There are songs, legends, narratives, custom and traditions of Poland, Czechs, Slovaks. For centuries, during the winter solstice and New Year's Eve, young men disguised them. They visit neighbors with joyful New Year's wishes and traditional, home-made items. Others disguised themselves as creatures known from tradition, legends, and customs. There was the demonic figure Maszkara, who scared the residents, especially young children.
Another of the characteristic figures is the "Turon". He represents a door as a hairy and black being that has a large, snapping mouth. The demonic beast entered the house to dance, play pranks and frighten women and children. Everyone would wait for the Kolenda. When a house got left out, it was a bad sign.
In a certain moment of celebration and tramping, the Turon fell to the ground. The Kolednicy tried to shake him and the straw on his body was lit. Liquor got poured into the mouth, to drive out the evil spirits and to revive him. The creature woke up and began again with new dances and pranks until the visit came to an end.
Death and then rebirth of the Turon symbolized the rebirth of "Mother Earth" to wake up again in the spring. The Gwiazdor dressed in sheepskin and fur hat, with black smeared face hidden behind a mask. Gwiazdor also carried a bag of gifts and a rod. He asked the residents of the family of the children's behavior last year. Depending on the answer, there were gifts or blows with the rod.
The Aymaras celebrate the Willka Kuti each year in the pre-Inca citadel of Tiahuanaco. Hundreds of people visit the temple of Kalasasaya de Tiahuanaco early. They attend the commemoration coinciding with the southern winter solstice. And the change of the agricultural cycle for planting in the field. Western culture calls it Andean Amazon New Year.
The Inti Raymi (or Fiesta del Sol) is a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire in honor of the sun god Inti. It also marked the winter solstice and a new year in the Andes of the southern hemisphere. A ceremony performed by the Inca priests was the linking of the sun. In Machu Picchu, there is still a large stone column called Intihuatana. The ceremony to bind the sun to the stone was to prevent the sun from escaping. The Monte Alto culture may also have a similar tradition.
We Tripantu is the celebration of the Mapuche New Year. The celebration consists of families remaining awake during the night till the sunrise. When the sun appears, a ritual bath takes place in a river.
The celebration of the Maruaroa or Takurua is by the Maori of New Zealand. Maori believe that the sun has two girlfriends: Takarúa (in winter) and Hine Raumati (in summer). It follows from the rise of Matariki, which marks the beginning of the southern New Year.
Beiwe is the sun goddess worshiped by the Saami, the original people of Lapland. She travels with her daughter through the sky in a structure made of reindeer bones. On the winter solstice, worshipers sacrifice white hinds. With wood and threads, they place the flesh, in the form of rings and tie with bright ribbons. They also smear their poles with butter, so that Beiwe can eat the rich food and recover from the journey.
The Deuorius Riuri was the great divine winter festival, observed by the Coligny. Goru is the winter solstice ceremony of the Dogon country in Mali. It is the last harvest ritual and celebrates the arrival of the god of heaven, Amma. The New Year's Eve celebration of Scotland is Hogmanay. Junkanoo in Jamaica, is a great masquerade, parade and street festival.
In the civilizations of the Aegean Sea, the ritual, Lenaea was the Festival of the Wild Woman. In the forest, a man or bull representing the god Dionysus got torn to pieces and consumed by Maenads. Later in the ritual, a baby got offered, which represents the rebirth of Dionysus. In the classical era, human sacrifice got replaced by that of a goat. The Brumalia, an ancient festival got influenced by Lenaia. The festival included drinking and merriment.
In the folklore of Sweden, if children, did not carry out tasks, the demon woman, the Lussi would come to punish them.
Makar Sankranti is the only Indian festival based on the solar calendar instead of the lunar. In some parts of India, people bath in the Ganges or in another river and make offerings to the sun god. In many states, families fly kites from their roofs throughout the day. It is a way to celebrate and welcome the longest day.
Modranicht was a Germanic fest. People believed that dreams tonight predicted events of the following year. The Germans believed that Hertha was the goddess of light, domesticity, and home. They baked yeast cakes in the form of shoes, which were Hertha slippers filled with gifts. The houses got covered with spruce branches to welcome him. The ancient German legends worshiped Nornagest and Helgi.
When the family met for dinner, they made an altar with flat stones, where they lit a bonfire with fir branches. They said that Hertha descended through the smoke to guess the future of those attending. There are also versions of Perchta terrifying children along with a certain Krampus. These traditions have continued in the rural regions of the Alps. Similar traditions, such as Wren's Day, survived in the Celtic nations until recently.
Gheimhridh is a name used for celebrations of the Proto-Celtic and Druid tribes. Olentzero is a Navarrese character from the Basque Christmas tradition. Apalpador is a character from the Galician Christmas tradition. Wayeb in the Mayan calendar was a special period. People performed rituals in their homes or clean their hair.