Holidays: The winter solstice

Get out your motley clothes,
prepare for mirth and merry

Tuesday is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of winter. Technically, the solstice occurs at the exact moment when the Earth’s tilt is furthest from the sun, but we’ll be marking it all day long.

Throughout history, cultures have taken note of this day and marked it with a range of ceremonies, rituals and celebrations. Here’s a sampling:

Brumalia: An ancient Roman festival honoring Bacchus, featuring mirth and merriment. The name is derived from the Latin word bruma, meaning “shortest day” or “winter solstice.”

The Extreme of Winter: A festival marked by a number of East Asian cultures, based on the the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos.

Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun): An Incan religious ceremony in honor of the sun god Inti. It also marked the winter solstice and a new year in the Andes.

Lá an Dreoilín (Wren Day): Crowds of people, called wrenboys, take to the roads in various parts of Ireland, dressed in motley clothing, wearing masks or straw suits and accompanied by musicians, supposedly in remembrance of a festival celebrated by the Druids.

Midwinter: In research stations throughout Antarctica, Midwinter is widely celebrated as a way to mark the fact that the people who winter-over just went through half their turn of duty.

Shab-e Chelleh: An Iranian holiday celebrated on the eve of the first day of winter in the Persian calendar, which always falls on the solstice.

Sanghamitta: A celebration to honor of the Buddhist nun who brought a branch of the Bodhi tree to Sri Lanka, where it has flourished for more than 2,000 years.

Soyalangwul: A ritual of the Zuni and Hopi Indians to the ceremonially bring the sun back from its long winter slumber.

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