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Winter is celebrated worldwide with holidays linked to religion, philosophy, traditions, and the solstice. We’ve recently examined a number of Christmas customs including Czech, Colombia, and Germany. We’ve explained Advent, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Today we share thoughts about the Winter Solstice.

What is solstice?

Solstice is a staying of the sun’s apparent motion over the latitudes of the Earth. At the summer solstice, the sun stops its northward motion and begins heading south. At the winter solstice, it turns north.

When is summer and winter solstice?

Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere occurs on December 21 and 22, which are the longest nights of the year because this is when the earth’s axis is farthest away from the sun. The length of the day is shortest. The summer solstice is just the opposite. On June 21st and 21st the daylight hours are the longest because the earth’s axis is closest to the sun.

What is the history of winter solstice?

In medieval times, people living in the northern hemisphere feared the darkness. As the warmer months ended; the days became shorter and weather colder. Astronomy wasn’t yet a science and refrigeration wasn’t an innovation. When the sun disappeared earlier and earlier in the day, and darkness appeared, fear grew stronger that the sun not ever reappear. After several months warmer weather and flowers would appear. Eventually, an understanding of the sun’s cycle developed. Celebrations of the sun’s appearance began a few days after the darkest day of the year.

How did different cultures historically celebrate winter solstice?

Greece: Lenaea, the winter solstice celebration or the Festival of the Wild Women included a man representing Dionysus the harvest god. He was torn to pieces and devoured by a gang of women; later he would be reborn as a baby. Years later, the human sacrifice was replaced a goat and the women’s role was that of birth observers.

Iran: Shab-e yalda, the sun’s rebirth, was an ancient Iranian ceremony reflecting goodness and light against evil and darkness. The last day of the Persian month of Azar is the longest night of the year; the days brighten from then on. Traditions for Shab-e yalda include the eating of fruit and nuts to symbolize the hope for future prosperity.

Italy: Saturnalia was a December 17 festival in honor of the Roman god of agriculture, Saturnus. Saturnalia lasted from one to seven days (depending on the current ruler). It featured public banquets, gambling and eased social restrictions. Wax candles were traditional gifts for family and friends.

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Sharon Schweitzer wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre and the Intercultural Communication Institute, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, and Fortune. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards and the 2017 New York City Big Book Award for Multicultural Nonfiction.