Sunday, 21 December 2014

Winter Solstice 2014 - Dongzhi 冬至

How the shortest day of the year is celebrated around the world
Druid and Pagan communities celebrate the winter solstice at Stonehenge

Around the world, the interpretation of the winter solstice varies widely from culture to culture.

An astronomical phenomenon which marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year, various communities recognise the event as a symbol of rebirth since ancient times, with festivals, rituals and other celebrations.

This year's winter solstice occurs shortly after 11pm on 21 December in the UK, but in time zones east of the GMT, it is already 22 December, so the date depends on where you are.

Tang yuan, or glutinous rice balls, eaten during the Dongzhi festival(Flickr)

The Annual Winter Solstice Lantern Festival in Vancouver(Flickr)

A fire walking ceremony to pray for good health and safety life at Kabasan Saenazumi Jinja shrine(Getty)

Revellers celebrate the winter solstice at Stonehenge in 2013(Getty)

People drag logs as a traditional winter solstice celebration in Latvia(Flickr)

Soyal, the Heaume Korosto sacred mask of the Hopi, a native American tribe from Arizona(Getty)

Amanda Lindblom performs as Santa Lucia during the traditional Queen of Light procession Varfru church in Enkoping, Sweden(Getty)

Saturnalia by Ernesto Biondi, 1909, in the Buenos Aires Botanical Gardens(Wiki Commons)

Montol Eve in Penzance, Corwall, in 2009(Flickr)

Iranians buy watermelons in downtown Tehran in preparation for the annual festival of Yalda(Getty)

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Winter Solstice 2014: 3 Things To Know About Pagan Yule Celebrations
The pagan holiday known as Yule falls on the winter solstice, which is Dec. 21 this year. Flickr

December may be marked by Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but for pagans it’s the time to celebrate Yule. The holiday marks the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere (Sunday, Dec. 21, this year) and celebrates the rebirth of the sun and beginning of winter. It is one of the oldest winter celebrations known.

The winter solstice is the longest night and shortest day of the year. The Earth’s axis tilts the furthest away from the sun at 23-and-a-half degrees, giving all locations north of the equator less than 12 hours of daylight. This moment has been marked by mankind for centuries.

In ancient Rome, the weeklong feast of Saturnalia honored the sun god Saturn. Celts believed the sun stood still for 12 days, making it necessary to light a log fire to conquer the darkness. During the Iron Age, the Celts and other ancient Europeans welcomed the winter solstice by feasting, merrymaking and sacrificing animals. Today modern pagans celebrate the holiday by lighting candles, throwing bonfires, hosting feasts and decorating their homes.

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Dongzhi 冬至 (Winter Solstice Festival)

This festival originated from China, as early as 770-476 BC.  Ancient Chinese astronomers divided the whole year into 24 solar terms according to climate changes. The Chinese also found that the Winter Solstice was the shortest daytime and longest night time in the whole year.  After winter solstice, daytime will grow increasingly longer as the sun slowly moves back to the northern hemisphere.  Hence, Winter Solstice is a solar term in Chinese lunar calendar and often falls on December 22 or 23 (solar calendar) every year.

The festival that fall on this date is known as Dongzhi Festival or Tang Chek (in Hokkien) .  During the Tang and Song Dynasties, ancestor worship was performed on the Winter Solstice. Today this tradition of celebrating Winter Solstice is a cultural practice for many Chinese worldwide and it is considered as an auspicious celebration.

In Malaysia and Singapore, the Dongzhi Festival is celebrated as family get together event.  It is the time where families gather to make and eat tangyuan (湯圓) or balls of glutinuous rice balls, which symbolize reunion. Tangyuan are made of glutinuous rice which is grounded to a flour and then coloured.  The flour balls may be plain or stuffed (with a sweet bean paste or ground nuts). They are cooked in a sweet light syrup or savoury broth. Some Chinese Taoist and Buddhist will make tangyuan offering to their ancestors on this day. Many Chinese also consider this a cultural event, a time for a family gathering.

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