Where to Celebrate the Winter Solstice
Kick off winter with these ancient traditions and parties. See how countries in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate the longest night of the year.
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England’s funky beach town Brighton celebrates the longest night of the year with Burning the Clocks Festival. Thousands of paraders march through town with lanterns made of out of white tissue paper and decorated with hopes and dreams. The procession ends at the water where the lanterns are tossed into a giant bonfire to represent the passage of time and a new sun.
Barcelona’s Hospital de Sant Pau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, celebrates the Winter Solstice with a dazzling light show mapped perfectly to the historic building’s exterior. The augmented reality is free and a must-see when in Barcelona during the holidays.
Denali National Park
Celebrate the longest night of the year with a snowy stroll through a beautiful luminary-lit path in Alaska’s Denali National Park. The special Winter Solstice stroll is family-friendly and OK for skiers, snowshoers and hikers of all skill levels.
Aztec Ruins National Monument
The structures at Aztec Ruins National Monument offer a window into the lives of the Pueblo people who built them more than 900 years ago. And quite literally on the Winter Solstice. The Aztec West great house was built in alignment with the sun and each solstice rangers lead a sunset observance so park-goers can see the magical alignment firsthand.
Bandelier National Monument
If you’re not enough of a morning person for a sunrise celebration, Bandelier National Monument offers Winter Solstice Walks at sunset.
“My grandmother always reminded us that Winter Solstice is to be celebrated because it is the symbol of the return of light,” said Charlotte Ruge of Visit Denmark. “Danish people tend to gather on this day, light a lot of candles and embrace our beloved expression hygge.” Copenhagen’s Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum is said to be especially beautiful on the Winter Solstice because the building’s central axis is aligned with the sun and light fills the museum. Glytotek celebrates with a free, guided art tour that focuses on works of art where the sun and the solstice play a crucial role.
China’s Winter Solstice celebration Dongzhi Festival is just as big as the Lunar New Year. It represents the return of sunlight and an increase in positive energy. It’s common on this day for families to get together and, in Northern China, families celebrate by making tons of dumplings.
The Mayan structures at Chichen Itza are extremely popular on the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes as the shadows on the Kukulkan Temple resemble the namesake serpent god. But on the Winter and Summer Solstices, the temple creates different shadow art. At the end of the day, the north and east sides of the pyramid are bathed in light and the south and west sides are completely in shadow. From above, it looks like the temple has been divided right down the middle.
Older than Stonehenge or the Egyptian pyramids, Newgrange Tomb (Brú na Bóinne in Irish) is still a mystery. But most agree the more-than-5,000-year-old structure was built for religious purposes. The mound tomb has several inner chambers and features a roof-box that is perfectly aligned with the Winter Solstice. More than 30,000 people applied last year to enter the chamber and see the light pour in at sunrise but only 60 are selected. For those who don’t win the light lottery, you can still stand outside of the tomb at sunrise.
In Japan, the Winter Solstice means preparing for the new cycle of nature. Soaking in a bath with yuzu, a citrus with a strong aroma, is a popular practice. It is believed that the yuzu wards off evil spirits and cleanses the body. Kabocha, a Japanese squash, is eaten to ensure health through winter. The pumpkin is simmered and topped with red beans for the popular dish itokoni.
And, finally, back to England. You can’t talk about the solstice without talking about Stonehenge. Last year, thousands of Pagans, Druids, revelers and tourists gathered at the site to celebrate the shortest day of the year. The Winter Solstice, as opposed to the Summer Solstice, is very important to Pagans as the day is believed to be the rebirth of the sun.