Winter is coming! Sorry, could not resist a Game of Thrones reference. Although it seems like the days cannot get any shorter, the shortest day is yet to come. Today, December 21st marks this year’s Winter Solstice and is the point when we see the least daylight. Historically, many religions and cultures have used the solstice to celebrate the re-emergence of the sun. Take a look at some modern-day, rather fascinating photos from last year’s festivities at Stonehenge. Remember, if you live in the southern hemisphere, December 21 is actually the longest day of the year. Bring on the sun!
Winter is home to many other celebrations and holidays. Hanukkah (alternatively, Chanukah and other variants), is the Jewish festival of light and started this year on December 16. Celebrated for eight days, Hanukkah commemorates the 2nd Century BCE victory of the few over the many and the miracle of one day of oil lasting eight days. People light one candle per night on the eight candle menorah (with one additional candle, the shamash, to light the rest) and give blessings.
Christmas, once perhaps tied in with the winter solstice, is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus. Christmas is now observed across the world with and without religious elements. From Las Posadas, the procession of Jesus and Mary statues recreating their search for lodging (celebrated mainly in Mexico and Guatemala) to St. Nicholas Day in Europe on December 6, there are numerous festivities. As Britannica Library rather dryly notes, Christmas is “marked by an increasingly elaborate exchange of gifts.” 😉
Created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga as a way to unite families and communities, Kwanzaa is based on centuries of first harvest traditions in Africa. Observed for seven days from December 26 to January 1, each day celebrates one of the seven principles, or Nguzo Saba. (Information about Kwanzaa accessed on Encyclopedia Americana, one of the library’s free databases. Check it out with your library card!)
Of course, there are many more traditions and celebrations not mentioned here–what about you?