In Photos: Winter Solstice Celebrations Around the World

In a year that has seemed far too dark, on December 21, winter solstice, we will be that much closer to saying goodbye to 4 p.m. sunsets and welcoming back the sun. Every year around this time, the first day of winter is celebrated by bidding adieu to shorter, colder days and inching closer to spring.

What is the winter solstice? It occurs every year when the Earth is tilted the furthest away from the sun leading to the year's shortest day and longest night. It also indicates the first official day of winter. The phenomenon happens twice a year in each hemisphere and while for some it might just be the beginning of the end of much-too-early sunsets, for some cultures it signifies much more.

This year, the winter solstice falls on the same day as what is known as the great conjunction. This happens when Jupiter and Saturn align with one another from Earth's vantage point which happens about once every 20 years. This year is the first time in 800 years it has occurred at night, making it more visible to more people all over the world.

Going back centuries, the winter solstice has held great significance in many cultures. For some, darkness symbolizes evil meaning the welcome of more sunlight is more about welcoming goodness into our lives. In some places, celebrations include eating special foods that symbolize good fortune in the year to come. In a year that has been filled with dark days, let's celebrate the return of the sun.

Here are some of the wonderful and unique ways the winter solstice is celebrated around the world.

Burning the Clocks, Brighton, England

Burning the clocks
People gather for the annual 'Burning The Clocks' lantern parade for the winter solstice on December 21, 2018 in Brighton, England. The festival has taken place in Brighton since 1993. Andrew Hasson/Getty

Much of what winter solstice represents is time; how fast or slow it is moving. On the shortest day, and longest night of the year, it seems fitting that there's a tradition of "burning the clocks." On the day of the winter solstice, which this year will be celebrated on December 21, people in Brighton, England, parade large lanterns through town, often while dressed in costumes that somehow incorporate the image of a clock. At the end of the procession, the lanterns are tossed into a massive bonfire burning away the last year and welcoming in the new one.

Dongji, South Korea

The tradition of eating patjuk, or red bean porridge, symbolizes the upcoming new year. bong hyunjung/Getty

In South Korea, the celebration of the shortest day of the year, called Dongji, is all about food. There is a tradition of eating patjuk, or red bean porridge, which symbolizes the upcoming new year. Red is considered to be a lucky color so the bean color is also significant. Another practice is to gift calendars, which is a tradition that dates back generations when kings would hand out calendars to government officials. It is preferable that December 21 is a cold day as it is said to bring a successful harvest, whereas warm weather—not so much.

Stonehenge, United Kingdom

Revelers take part in celebrations to mark the winter solstice at Stonehenge prehistoric monument on December 22, 2019, in Wiltshire, England. Several thousand revelers, Druids and Pagans gathered at the monument to watch the sun rise and celebrate the solstice, a tradition believed to date back thousands of years. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images) Rufus Cox/Getty

There is much mystery surrounding Stonehenge and how the rock structures appeared. Last year, 5,000 people gathered at Stonehenge to welcome in winter, according to CNN. It's the perfect place to watch the sunrise due to the way the stones are configured to align with the movements of the sun. Every year it is a popular place to celebrate the winter solstice, often attracting people to gather first thing in the morning after the longest night of the year to watch the sunrise through the stones. This year, due to COVID-19, the sunrise will be livestreamed so people around the world can enjoy it and organizers are encouraging people not to show up in person this year.

Shalako, Zuni People, New Mexico

Painting by Mary Wright Gill depicts the Shalako ceremony of the Zuni tribe, early 1900s. The ceremony is held, in part, to give thanks for the previous harvest. Transcendental Graphics//Getty

During the winter solstice every year, the Zuni people in New Mexico celebrates with a multi-day event called the Shalako festival. The events are typically private and closed off to the public. Various dances and ceremonies are carried out through the event including symbols that represent different gods. Shakalo is a towering structure of about 10 feet with the face of a bird symbolizing and embodying important deities, which is carried during the ceremony. "The Zuni deities are believed to provide 'blessings' and 'balance' for the coming seasons and agricultural year," Rosalyn R. Lapier, writes in a previous Op-Ed for Newsweek.

Newgrange, Donore, Ireland

Just like Stongehenge, the celebrations at Newgrange happen in the morning as the sun rises. Michelle McMahon/Getty

Newgrange is another stone structure famous for the way the sun shines through, especially during the winter solstice. It's such a popular spot for the winter solstice that there is a lottery every year to attend the annual event. Just like Stongehenge, the winter solstice celebrations at Newgrange happen in the morning as the sun rises. It is said that Newgrange was purposely built so that the entrance was aligned with the rising sun of the winter solstice. The lottery was opened in September and it seems as though the celebration will go on according to plan this year.

Yuzu Fruit Bath, Japan

Monkey baths
Monkeys sit in the orange spa at the Ueno zoo in Tokyo, 22 December 2007. To reflect the tradition of bathing with citrus on the day of the winter solstice to keep good health, the zoo presented it to monkeys. TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty

Unlike some of the traditions here, this one does not require standing out in the cold waiting for the sun to go up (or down.) This ritual requires that you relax in an onsen, or hot spring that has had a yuzu fruit added to it. The yuzu is a citrus fruit, similar to grapefruit or orange and is said to symbolize good luck. It is also supposed to keep away bad health for the upcoming year. Of course, to be safer during the pandemic, this bathing tradition can be replicated at home in your own bathtub.

Yaldā , Iran

The food is important during Yaldā and common table items will be nuts, pomegranates and watermelon Sepidehmaleki/Atlantic Council

This celebration in Iran, which is similar to ones in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and other central Asian countries, focuses on celebrating light and saying goodbye to darkness. Darkness symbolizes evil so winter solstice is a celebration of welcoming in goodness in the form of light —or longer days. The food is also important in this celebration and some common table items will be nuts, pomegranates and watermelon.

Soyal, Hopi People, Arizona

Kachin Mana, a representation of the female sex in kachinas, As spirits of the invisible life forces, kachinas were impersonated during masked ceremonies which occurred from the winter solstice until July, their main purpose to bring rain for the spring crops. The dolls were used as mnemonic devices. Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty

The Hopi people, who live mostly in Arizona, also give great meaning to the winter solstice. The celebration is called Soyal and though not the only ceremony that occurs throughout the year, is one of the most important. It is said to symbolize the "second phase of creation," and is carried out to help welcome in a prosperous new year. The ceremony aligns with when the Katsinam, or spirits, return back to the tribe bringing with them light.

St Lucia's Day, Scandinavia

St. Lucia's Day
Amanda Lindblom (C) performs as Santa Lucia with her twelve Lucia handmaidens during the traditional Queen of Light procession arranged by the Swedish church at Varfru church in Enkoping, 73 kms northwest of capital city Stockholm, on December 13, 2011. FREDRIK SANDBERG / SCANPIX/AFP/Getty

Scandinavia is no stranger to long, dark winters. This holiday celebrating the winter solstice takes place days before most of the Northern Hemisphere celebrates the solstice. On December 13, St. Lucia's Day took place and is modeled off a centuries-old tradition of burning fires to ward off evil. Nowadays it involves processions of thousands of candles and the eldest daughter of each family wears a white dress and crown made of candles. The eldest daughter is also traditionally responsible for serving the rest of her family coffee and treats.

Correction 12/20/20, 2:25 p.m. ET: The original version of this story listed Newgrange as located in the UK. It has been altered to list it in Ireland.

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