Winter Solstice: 5 Celebrations of the Light to Come

Published on December 12, 2023

Winter solstice marks the day with the shortest amount of sunlight in the year. On Thursday, Dec 21, 2023, there will be only 7 hours and 14 minutes of daylight1. Even though this is a time where people notice the dark extended nights, it is also a time of rebirth and celebrations for many cultures around the world. It marks the return of the sun. Winter solstice is a very interesting holiday that has been celebrated for thousands of years in several different ways throughout the world. Here are some examples of the way that the Winter Solstice is celebrated.

  1. In Scandinavia, the Winter Solstice Festival burns a Juul log to celebrate the return of the Sun, giving rise to the Christmas tradition of yule logs burning in the fireplace 2. Their region is heavily affected by cold weather, so warmth and light are important as winter settles in. The solstice is also near St. Lucia’s Day, which is another festival where lights and wreaths of candles play a starring role3.
  2. Yalda, meaning rebirth of the sun, is the celebration of the winter solstice in Iran. It is viewed as the victory of light over dark and the birthday of the Sun God Mithra. Some people build fires on the sundown of the Solstice and kept them burning until the first rays of sun the following day. Families celebrate together in the homes of elders with nuts, watermelon, apples, pears, kiwi, and pomegranates. Some even stay up all night to welcome the morning sun, understanding that the day after the solstice they will have more daylight to come 3, 4
  3. DongZhi in China is thousands of years old and involves families gathering to eat warm and hearty food. The most commonly enjoyed food during this occasion is tangyuan, a Chinese rice dessert that “symbolizes family, unity, and prosperity”5. DongZhi also applies the Chinese Philosophy of Yin and Yang. After the solstice, the abundance of darkness in winter will balance with the light of the sun that increases each day3.
  4. In Japan, the winter solstice is celebrated in a tradition called Toji. A special winter squash called kabocha is eaten and people often have warm citrus baths. The bath refreshes the body and spirits, wards off illness, smells wonderful, and soothes dry winter skin. Citrus fruit peels contain citric acid and vitamin C, which are “known to aid in fatigue recovery. It has been traditionally said that ‘taking a yuzu bath will prevent colds for a year,’ and its benefits for improving blood circulation and alleviating cold sensitivity have been scientifically proven”6.  
  5. The Solstice is a moment of great importance for Mayan culture. “It indicated a new sun being born, winter’s arrival, and set the time to let the Earth rest for the following cultivation season”7. Mayans built their culture, buildings, calendars, and farming practices around the movement of the sun and moon.The orientation and shape of their buildings reflect light and cast shadows that allow people to tell the time of the year. A great example of this is Chichen Itza, one of the best places to witness the winter solstice. “When the sun shines at a specific time, the northern and western faces of the Pyramid of Kukulkan remain in dark shadows while the southern and eastern sides are bathed in sunbeams”7.

With the approaching winter solstice, many will celebrate the holiday in several different ways. Light Awake honors the winter solstice and understands the need for light in these dark months. Let Light Awake help you navigate these dark months with light to help you wake up each day and celebrate the fact that more sunlight is coming each day after the solstice. 

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Dr. Kathy Hurst is on a mission to create the world’s most innovative alarm clock. As a doctor, she knows the frustration of waking up at odd hours to a blaring alarm. Backed by the latest research, she has found that noisy alarm clocks are harmful to our circadian rhythms. Her invention, Light Awake, harnesses the power of light to support our natural biology instead. Read more about her inspiration here. 


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